2 Republicans join Dems to kill social promotion ban


Legislation to outlaw “social promotion” hit a snag Monday as two Republicans refused to go along with a proposal by one of their own.

Rep. Joanne Osborne of Goodyear reminded lawmakers about her own story about holding back her son in the fourth grade after she found that he was still reading at a second-grade level due to hearing problems he had as a baby.

“It was the right thing to do for my son at that time,” she told colleagues. And Osborne said she believes that HB 2013 is “heading in the right direction.”

The measure gained preliminary approval last week on a voice vote.

But when the issue came up for a final roll-call on Monday, the first-term lawmaker said proponents have not looked at what such a hard-and-fast policy would mean to schools across the state during the next few years “as they try to handle the many children that may be held back.”

“What does that mean to class size,” Osborne asked. “What does that mean to the overall education to all that are in those areas?”

And without answers, she said she could not support the measure.

That lack of knowledge was cited by Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson.

She said lawmakers have no information on not just the number of children already held back but also those who, through the concept of “social promotion,” are advanced on to the next grade even though they had not shown mastery of the skills from the current grade. The legislation would have banned that practice except for certain students with special needs and some who entered school with limited English-language skills.

Osborne’s opposition, by itself, was enough to quash the bill in the 60-member House where 31 votes are needed for final approval, as all 29 Democrats were in opposition.

But she was joined by Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott who did not explain his vote, making the final tally 29-31.

Monday’s vote does not necessarily mean the issue is dead. Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, may have ways of resurrecting the issue later this session.


4 Republican lawmakers line up for race to run House

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)
Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

At least one candidate for speaker of the House hopes the crowded race plays to his advantage.

Up until the August 28 primary election, the speaker’s race appeared to be a two-way contest between Reps. Darin Mitchell and Rusty Bowers.

But with Mitchell’s defeat in the primary, several other candidates have declared their intentions to run for the chamber’s top position.

Republican lawmakers will meet right after the general election to elect the new speaker and other leaders. Democrats will also meet to elect their leadership team.

The speaker’s race is now shaping up to be a four-way contest. Bowers, who previously served as majority leader in the Senate in the late 1990s and helped lead budget and water policy discussions this session, is joined by Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, Rep. Mark Finchem, a prominent member of the most conservative faction of the House, and Rep. Noel Campbell, who hopes members look to him when they can’t come to a consensus on any of the other three candidates.

Townsend, a three-term lawmaker from Mesa, said she is interested in running for speaker to continue building off of what current House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has done in the past two years.

Unite the caucus

As speaker, Townsend said she would work to unite the GOP caucus and build an effective team that utilizes all House members’ strengths to push through legislation that will positively affect Arizona residents.

She said she has always been inclined to lead the chamber and this being her last term in the House, she jumped at the opportunity. She said she has proven she is a strong leader through her work as an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy, as whip the past two years, and as the lead organizer of the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention last fall.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

“If you want to know Kelly Townsend and how I run as a leader … if you want to see how I would be like as a speaker, look at the convention,” she said. “I put everyone to work. It wasn’t the Kelly show. There were a lot of people involved in making that a success.”

If Townsend is elected speaker, she will become only the second woman to hold that position. Jane Dee Hull served as speaker from 1989-1992.

But her decision to seek the speakership comes after a tumultuous tenure as majority whip. In February, Townsend said rumors of an effort to oust her as majority whip were true. She said at the time that several of her colleagues were unhappy that she called for Don Shooter’s resignation following the release of the House’s sexual harassment report, and that some of her colleagues felt like she was “protecting” Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, whom they felt should have been reprimanded for having a relationship with former House staffer Brian Townsend.

In March, The Arizona Republic published a story about an inappropriate comment Townsend accused Mesnard of making about Ugenti-Rita’s clothing, which opened the door to a renewed effort to oust her as majority whip.

Finchem said he is running for the chamber’s top spot with Mitchell’s blessing, and that the move was part of a contingency plan that the Liberty Caucus, a self-identified group of conservative members, had in place in the event that any of its members who were seeking a leadership position weren’t re-elected.

The Oro Valley Republican had previously announced that he was running for majority leader. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who had also announced he is running for majority leader, has said he will not jump into the speaker’s race, which Finchem said made him the “natural” choice to replace Mitchell.

He said while Bowers boasts a lot of support, he believes he can get the necessary votes to win.

‘A solid bloc’

Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)
Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)

“I already have a solid bloc of votes that are hard ‘yesses,’ some from elected members, some from candidates yet to be elected. And I think there is a pathway for me to collect enough votes to become the next speaker,” he said, adding that some of the votes are from people who were supporting Mitchell.

If elected speaker, Finchem said two of his major goals are to improve the image of the House and develop members’ and staffs’ skills. He said he would be a pragmatic leader who could appease both conservatives and moderates.

Campbell, of Prescott, said that while he thinks his candidacy is a longshot, he views himself as the “compromise candidate” and he hopes other members see him in the same light.

“Between you, me and the fencepost, it’s not very likely to happen. But if things get drawn out, I’d like the members to know that they can look at me and consider me for the position,” Campbell said. “The way I look at it is if it’s not him, and it’s not that guy, maybe it’s Campbell, the compromise candidate.”

Campbell said he isn’t actively campaigning for the speakership or trying to line up votes.

Both Campbell and Finchem said with Mitchell out of the picture, it has opened up the speaker’s race and given members more options.

A healthy discussion

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell said the crowded race will lead to a healthy discussion among members about who will best lead the chamber, rather than having the position come down to a two-way race or it being a “slam dunk” as it has been in the past.

He said the competition will force candidates to present their case for why they should become speaker rather than just lobbying their friends for support.

“Whoever wins, wins and I’ll support them,” Campbell sid. “I know what I bring to the table. I’m not the smartest guy and I’m not super knowledgeable about all of the procedures, but I bring common sense. I get along with people and I can understand their viewpoints. And that comes from being an old guy. I would hope that I can do it well and I just thought there should be more of a choice for the members.”

Though at the moment it appears to be a four-way race, the field could be narrowed down by the November general election as candidates begin to line up votes. And the speakership could again be upended if any of the candidates fail to be re-elected.

It’s also not unlikely that other members might jump into the race leading up to the general election. Rep. Jill Norgaard, R-Phoenix, denied rumors that she is seeking the speakership, though she didn’t completely rule out the idea.

“It’s not something I’m thinking about right now,” she said, and added that she is focused on her re-election bid in Legislative District 18. “Frankly, I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries from members and from constituents about running for speaker, but at this time, I’m not interested in running for speaker. Granted things might change. It’s still months away.”

ADOT fee double forecasted amount, angers lawmakers


That balanced budget that Gov. Doug Ducey said wouldn’t raise taxes is going to cost Arizona motorists an extra $32 a year for every car, truck and motorcycle they have.

And it’s more than 50 percent higher than Arizonans were told when the plan was first adopted earlier this year.

The fee is designed to have motorists pay directly for the costs of the Highway Patrol rather than having the agency funded out of gas tax and existing vehicle registration fees.

That is supposed to free up cash from the gas tax to instead be used for road construction and repair. And that, in turn, means that general tax collections which had been used for those purposes could instead fund other priorities of the governor and Legislature.

There’s a reason the fee, approved by lawmakers earlier this year, is a surprise. And it’s political.

The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any new or increased tax or fee. And there were not the votes in either chamber to do that.

So lawmakers and the governor used a loophole of sorts: They directed John Halikowski, the head of the state Department of Transportation, to figure out how much the Highway Patrol division of the Department of Public Safety costs to operate. And then Halikowski was directed to impose a new fee to cover that cost.

In passing the buck, so to speak, by refusing to set the fee themselves, lawmakers then needed just a simple majority.

But the fee that was announced Thursday surprised Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who came up with the idea.

“That amount was not broached,” he told Capitol Media Services, saying “$17 or $18 was what the fee they told us we’d be dealing with.”

That’s also the number Campbell gave to colleagues when they approved the plan.

The Prescott lawmaker is not happy with Thursday’s announcement.

“We gave him the authority,” he said of Halikowski.

“We hope that he does the right thing,” Campbell continued. “I’m certainly going to talk to him about that and find out why.”

It’s not just Campbell that got a surprise when ADOT set the fee.

In preparing the plan earlier this year, legislative budget analysts figured that Highway Patrol would need about $135 million a year. Even with a 10 percent buffer, that would come to just $148 million.

And that, they figured, would cost vehicle owners just $18.06 a year.

So what changed?

ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said it turns out the Highway Patrol budget will be $168 million. Add 10 percent to that and the fee needs to raise to $185 million.

And there’s something else. Legislative budget staffers figured the cost would be divided up among 8.3 million registered vehicles.

But Nick said the owners of many of the vehicles on the road have prepaid their registrations for two or five years. So they can’t be taxed until they renew.

Add to that vehicles that are exempt from the levy, like government vehicles and those owned by nonprofit entities, and that $185 million has to be raised from the owners of just 5.8 million vehicles.

Do the math and you come up with $32.

The whole money-making maneuver – including the decision to leave the fee up to the ADOT director – is the culmination of a multi-year effort to find new dollars to help build new roads and repair existing ones.

That is supposed to be financed largely through a gasoline tax. But that 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been raised since 1991 when gasoline was in the $1.20-a-gallon range.

And while there are more vehicles on the road, they also are more fuel efficient, with the number of road miles driven – and the wear and tear on the roads – increasing faster than new revenues.

What’s made matters worse is that the current and former governors and lawmakers, looking to balance the budget, have siphoned off some of those gas tax revenues to pay for the Highway Patrol. That left fewer dollars for both urban and rural transportation needs.

There were several lawmakers who were less than pleased with how the fee increase was crafted.

“Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because it was being done without any idea of what it would cost motorists.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucrat to go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” he said.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, also balked at approving a yet-to-be-determined fee.

“I just can’t in good conscience pass something I don’t know what it is exactly,” she said.

Arizona House makes historic vote to oust Don Shooter

Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Don Shooter relaxes Feb. 1 before a historic vote of his colleagues to remove him from office. He was ousted by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. Don Shooter refused to resign, instead forcing his Republican colleagues to vote to expel him over repeated, substantiated claims of sexual harassment contained in an investigative report conducted by the House.

Only three lawmakers had been expelled in the history of the Arizona Legislature. Shooter is the first Republican.

The majority of the chamber’s members, indeed a majority of its Republicans, voted to oust him. Only three men, one of them Shooter, voted against his expulsion.

An independent investigation produced a report detailing his repeated violation of a House harassment policy by creating a hostile work environment for female colleagues, other lawmakers, lobbyists and an intern at the Arizona Legislature.

He saw himself as a class clown, a character who told off-color jokes that found the right audience about 80 percent of the time, the report said.

But Shooter’s accusers saw him as a serial sexual harasser who used his position of power to belittle women with graphic sexual references, lewd gestures and unrelenting, unwanted sexual advances.

It was a “pattern of unwelcome and hostile conduct,” investigators Craig Morgan and Lindsay Hesketh said.

Without question, Shooter had leaped over typical professional boundaries.

And it cost him his political career.

The investigation was the first test of the nationwide Me Too movement in Arizona politics and the first use a brand new House policy designed to prevent the kind of behavior Shooter routinely exhibited.

In total, nine women publicly alleged misconduct, ranging from unwanted touching to inappropriate, sexually charged comments, to the press, which spurred the House’s investigation.

Yet even as Shooter’s political career crumbled around him, he didn’t seem to understand why. Throughout the investigation, he was indignant, not recognizing the impact his words and actions could have on other people. The report doesn’t include any real apologies for the harm he’d done.

He didn’t apologize before his fellow lawmakers voted to oust him either. He said the real shame in the chamber wasn’t anything he had done. He had taken the allegations “like a man.” He voted against his own removal, then left the House.

Earlier that day, he made a last-ditch effort and wrote a letter to his colleagues, saying he wanted another woman’s anonymous report, presumably about another elected official, to become public.

In the letter, Shooter said he has done some soul-searching since the allegations became public. He said he cares deeply about the pain he has caused others.

“Much of my focus has been inward and gradually coming to understand the impact of conduct, whether intentional or unintentional, that results in someone feeling demoralized and devalued,” he wrote.

He said a woman made a report to the House about “being subjected to her boss’ exposed genitalia” that has not been made public. Shooter wanted to see her story brought forward before any further action was taken against him.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

That letter pushed House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who had originally called for a censure and removal from all committees, to seek expulsion instead.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R- Mesa, the No. 3 Republican in the House, had given Shooter an ultimatum the day before: Resign or face expulsion in 24 hours. He didn’t resign.

In a statement, Mesnard said Shooter’s letter was an effort to use the woman “as a pawn” despite her attorney’s request that Shooter not do anything to jeopardize the woman’s anonymity.

“Rep. Shooter’s letter represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation, and yet another violation of the House’s harassment policy, so I will be moving to expel him from the House of Representatives immediately,” Mesnard said.

Three lawmakers, including Shooter, voted against Shooter’s removal. Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said he didn’t believe Shooter got due process in the report, and thought the lawmaker should have had an opportunity to cross-examine his accusers. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said it’s ultimately the voters who should hold Shooter accountable.

Report details

The investigators’ report provides a glimpse into Shooter’s attitude toward women over the years, and the Capitol culture that enabled it for so long.

He told investigators women like to feel pretty, so he often tells them they’re pretty, even when he doesn’t think they are.

He denied harassing several women, saying he doesn’t consider them attractive enough to harass. He sexualized breastfeeding. He didn’t deny many of the most obscene remarks he reportedly made. They sounded like something he would say, he acknowledged.

 Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

He clearly understood that Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who made 11 allegations of misconduct against Shooter, wanted nothing to do with him about a year into their formerly congenial relationship. But he didn’t relent.

He bought her a bottle of tequila and put it in her office, along with printed lyrics to an overtly sexual song about the liquor. “You and tequila make me crazy. … When it comes to you, oh the damage I could do,” the song goes.

She repeatedly felt belittled, tiny, sexualized, disrespected by his behavior.

Ugenti-Rita wasn’t the only one. Multiple women and one man made similar claims against Shooter, many of which were substantiated by an outside investigation report released January 30.

Even as investigators grilled him on his behavior with Ugenti-Rita and several others who alleged sexual harassment, he didn’t understand the gravity of his actions.

“I’m amazed my statements have such a profound effect on people,” he told the investigators.

At one point, investigators made it clear how outlandish the behavior was. Things that should have been obviously out of bounds in professional settings clearly weren’t treated that way.

“It is inappropriate to tell two complete strangers who are appealing to your good graces and powerful position, who believed they were advocating to save Arizona jobs, that your one regret is the failure to have had sex with Asian twins in Mexico,” the investigators wrote.

The behavior was so routine to Shooter that he initially thought a complaint about him referring to his penis was actually a different time that had occurred while talking with other House members.

Amy Love, a lobbyist for the Arizona Supreme Court, alleged Shooter made a comment about being the only lawmaker who had the “balls” to do something, then grabbed his genitals and shook them while Love was seated within arms-length of the lawmaker.

The investigators said Love’s claims were credible, despite Shooter’s contention that he didn’t think the events happened as described because Love is “not that cute,” which the investigators said was of no consequence.

Another complaint from Rep. Darin Mitchell alleged Shooter made a comment to another person, Adam Stevens, regarding the race for the House speaker. Shooter allegedly told Stevens that he would take Mitchell into the bathroom and have anal sex with him in front of Mitchell’s wife, and do it again until Mitchell liked him. The House investigators said they believe Shooter made these comments.

Ugenti-Rita alleged that during a 2011 Liberty Caucus meeting, when she excused herself to breastfeed her infant child, Shooter said he wished he were that “lucky baby.” Investigators said it’s likely that the incident occurred, and Shooter acknowledged that “it sounded like something he would have said.”

In 2013, he left one of his business cards on Ugenti-Rita’s car. On the card, he wrote “TOY” — thinking of you – a gesture he said he made as a way to “mourn” their dying friendship.

He dressed like a pirate and poked her with a sword in her side at a 2015 conference in San Diego.

Shooter made a comment about enjoying watching Marilyn Rodriguez, a Democratic lobbyist, shake dice and her chest at a “fun caucus” event, which the investigation corroborated. Rodriguez made two other claims against Shooter, which could not be corroborated because of contradicting statements from the various parties involved.

Kendra Penningroth, a former intern with the Arizona Capitol Times, said Shooter gave a prolonged, “really inappropriate” hug at a work event in 2017.

“Basic norms of social interaction dictate that you simply do not touch someone, on purpose, without permission — by hug or otherwise,” the investigators wrote.

Tara Zika, a business development director, alleged Shooter made inappropriate comments and gestures at her at a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference last year. She said Shooter blew her a kiss, made a comment about her legs and buttocks, and made a gesture meant to mimic oral sex on a woman.

The investigators couldn’t corroborate several of the claims, but Shooter admitted to making a comment about her butt, saying to a group of men that it was like “bobcats in a tote sack.”

Shooter adamantly denied making the oral sex gesture, and investigators said the allegation that he made the gesture was not credible. The “bobcats” comment violated House policy, the investigators said.

During the first week of the 2017 session, Shooter told Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who was brand new to the Legislature, “You’ll be a nice view to look at,” she told investigators. Shooter acknowledged that he told her something to the effect of, “You’ll be a pretty addition to the House.” He said he intended his remark to be a compliment to make Salman feel welcome, not as a sexual remark. The investigators found the remark violated the harassment policy.

After the report was released, Shooter called the investigation a “humbling and eye-opening experience” and said he looked forward to repairing relationships at the Capitol.

For his part, Mesnard called for a formal code of conduct and prohibition on the consumption of alcohol on House premises.

Mesnard said he wants to add a formal anti-harassment policy to the House rules, which carry the force of law. He will formalize a human resources department for the House as well, he said.

After his ouster, Shooter told the Capitol Times, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.”

Arizona is a signature away from texting while driving ban

woman driver hands use cellphone driving a car

Arizona is a step closer to becoming the 48th state to ban texting while driving.

But some lawmakers aren’t convinced that alone will save lives and voted to take the fight against distracted driving a step further.

The House passed Rep. Noel Campbell’s HB2318, which bans texting while driving but also effectively outlaws handheld cell phone use while driving.

The House additionally passed Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s SB1141 along party lines, empowering officers to not only pull over drivers for using their phones while driving but also for other activities that distract them from driving safely.

Both proposals now go to the governor’s desk.

Today’s votes occurred with family members of those killed by texting motorists watching in the gallery.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, specifically addressed the survivors of Clayton Townsend, an officer with the Salt River Police Department who was killed when he was struck by a texting motorists while conducting a traffic stop.

“We’re going to get it done today,” she told them.

The House’s 44-16 vote on HB2318 came after lawmakers defeated a version with many of the same restrictions but a crucial difference: It would have been a secondary offense, allowing police to cite offenders only if they were pulled over for some other reason.

“We are only one of three states in the entire nation that does not ban text messaging and driving even though we know the frightening statistics,” said Campbell, who has championed making texting while driving and the use of hand-held cell phone a primary offense, allowing police to stop motorists solely because they are breaking this new law.

Campbell noted that Arizona cities and counties already have their own versions.

Under the new state law, which takes effect in 2021, a first-time offense would result in a fine of between $75 and $149. Subsequent violations could mean fines of up to $250.

Campbell’s bill divided House Republicans – 16 voted against it – but won support from every Democrat, taking the legislation across the finish line.

Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, warned that the legislation would make anything from talking on the phone while driving to simply having it in your pocket a violation of the law.

He said there’s nothing inherently dangerous with talking on a cell phone, even without a hands-free device.

“There have been people who have driven their whole lives holding their phone up, talking on their phone, that have not had an accident, myself included,” he said. “We are going to make a lot of people lawbreakers with this bill.”

But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that simply isn’t correct.

He pointed to a provision of the bill that would allow drivers to touch their phones to activate hands-free features without breaking the law.

The protests against the bill ultimately came down to concerns that it is not written well enough and that it opens drivers up to being pulled over on the mere pretense that they had touched their phones.

Such concerns did not extend to Mesnard’s distracted driving bill, at least not for Republican members.

That bill passed without bipartisan support after Democrats argued that it would expand law enforcement’s ability to racially profile in communities of color.

“This will be a tool to stop anyone in those communities,” Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said.

She supported HB2318 because it focused on driving while using a cell phone, but like her Democratic colleagues, she argued SB1141 is “too incredibly broad.”

Beyond that, Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, D-Tucson said, the bill is too subjective and too vague, potentially rendering it unenforceable.

“Device in hand equals violation – it needs to be that simple,” he said.

But Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, rejected arguments that the bill would empower law enforcement officers to unfairly apply the law.

He said he’s never been pulled over for driving while black but for legitimate reasons. And if passing SB1141 puts lives that could be saved above individual liberties, he would opt to save lives.

“Liberties can be restored. Lives cannot,” he said.

Capitol Media Services’ Howard Fischer contributed to this report.

Big fights loom over few differences in GOP spending proposals

Male hand putting a coin into piggy bank

Cage fighting has begun at the state Capitol.

And while physical violence has been avoided, the stakes are high all the same. Somewhere in the ballpark of $12 billion in state revenues is up for grabs as lawmakers forge ahead on this session’s appropriation process, having bucked tradition by drafting separate legislative budget proposals in each chamber that need to be reconciled before negotiations can begin with the Governor’s Office.

Those proposals became public earlier in January, and Republican leadership and Appropriations Committee members from both the House and Senate have already held several meetings in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee offices, dubbed “the cage,” to hash out their differences on where the state should spend its money in the next fiscal year. Meetings with the governor, who released his budget proposal January 17, are on the horizon.

In broad strokes, the three Republican budgets are fairly similar. All call for increased funding for K-12 education, roads and public safety, and include some form of tax cut.

But there are key differences, mostly between the governor’s budget and the two legislative budgets.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to close a prison, launch a new program to fund low-achieving schools and stash more money in the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans in both legislative chambers are agitating for more aggressive tax cuts than the governor proposed.

The Senate framework has detailed requests from individual members, including overhauling a special education funding formula that has gone unchanged since 1980, building a veterans’ home in Mohave County and providing state aid to cities covering the costs of firefighters’ cancer treatment. The House, meanwhile, has set aside around $51 million ongoing for member requests – an amount that would all but disappear if lawmakers acquiesced to some of Ducey’s spending requests.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said discussions with House leaders are going well, but both chambers still have many questions for Ducey.

“Some of the things they have in their budget, we don’t understand what they’re doing or how they’re doing it or why they’re doing it,” she said of the governor’s budget plan.

Unknown Priorities

Chief among those questions is just how to handle the closure of Florence Prison, a move Ducey announced in his State of the State Address to the apparent surprise of Florence town officials. The governor’s budget staff estimated that moving prisoners to county jails or private prisons and reassigning correctional officers to the nearby Eyman Prison would save the state $270 million over three years.

But in the next budget year, closing the prison entails spending about $33 million to buy bed space for inmates in county jails and private prisons, according to the Governor’s Office, though neither the House nor Senate budget makes a similar appropriation. Legislative budget staff say questions over how much money is needed and where prisoners will go could remain unanswered until after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

“We’d like to have more details about that, as to how we’re going to go about transferring those prisoners and how those costs will be transferred to either the Eyman Prison or over to the county jails,” Fann said.

And legislative Republicans don’t know what to do with Ducey’s school-funding initiative, dubbed “Project Rocket,” which would spend $44 million to increase per-pupil funding at low-performing, low-income schools over three years. Neither legislative budget proposal carves out any funding for the new program, which Fann said most lawmakers didn’t know about prior to the governor’s State of the State Address.

While Project Rocket has support from Republicans, including House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, legislative leaders as a whole are skeptical of the program, which would eat up the bulk of the ongoing discretionary spending set aside for member requests if passed as written.

“Obviously we’re all for funding education, particularly schools that need the extra help to bring them up, but it’s a new program and so we have some questions,” Fann said. “How does it work? Who exactly is going to get the funds, and under what conditions?”

The program is modeled after a pilot that offered “results-based funding” in Avondale, Wickenburg and Deer Valley school districts, in effect increasing per-pupil spending. House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’s not sold on the initiative, and that she thinks it could be cheaper and just as effective if lawmakers narrow its scope.

“It includes D schools, F schools and it also includes C schools with 60% [free or reduced lunch] – that’s where that $44 million comes from,” Cobb said. “If you just did D and F schools, you could probably just drop it to $12 million.”

‘Bothersome’ Tax Cuts

And then there are differences on what to do with the state’s overflowing surplus. House Republicans want $350 million in tax cuts over the next three fiscal years, while the Senate calls for $275 million of cuts in the same time period, just about covering a wide-reaching plan introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, that would cut about $300 million over three years.

The governor, on the other hand, only calls for a reduction of $45 million, the result of a proposal to eliminate income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Ducey also wants to add $25 million to the rainy day fund, while appropriators have yet to propose an amount they’d like to see added to the fund.

Cobb called Ducey’s proposed tax cut a “carve-out of a carve-out,” not the kind of broad-based cuts sought by many conservatives.

She’d like to tinker with personal exemptions and charitable tax credits – perhaps in concert with the governor’s cut – to reach $100 million a year in ongoing cuts, plus a $50 million one-time cut in fiscal year 2021, which starts this coming July 1.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“I think that when you’ve got $1 billion in surplus, $100 million is not a lot of a tax cut to be given back to the taxpayers, especially since we’ve got …  an increase in income,” Cobb said. “We don’t want to live off of a nine or 10% growth rate. That’s unsustainable. So what we wanna’ do is live off of the lower growth rate.”

But the Legislature’s ambitious tax cut plans risk alienating moderates like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a north Phoenix Republican who faces stiff odds as she runs for re-election this year. Brophy McGee’s opposition to a tax cut plan Mesnard pitched last year that would have given more income tax breaks to wealthier Arizonans and increased taxes for the state’s poorest residents was one of the key reasons it didn’t pass.

Brophy McGee called the tax cut figures in the Senate and House budgets “bothersome,” but said she’s “somewhat interested” in Ducey’s narrowly targeted tax cut plan for veterans. The state still has $1.1 billion in K-12 rollovers and debt that has yet to be paid back, and should wait to go through another robust economic cycle before discussing cuts, she said.

“Let’s get back to where we were before the wheels fell off, and then we can talk about tax cuts,” she said.

The Dem Factor

Tax cuts also mean losing support from Democrats in either chamber who might otherwise be willing to support pieces of the budget, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. Sweeping tax cuts are a “poison pill” that will contaminate every budget bill, he said.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to introduce their own spending proposals by next week, publicly laying out their starting point in negotiations as Republican leaders barrel toward a planned late-February budget passage.

The House and Senate budgets do more closely align with Democratic priorities in one sense – they both call for more funding to help homeless Arizonans.

Both legislative proposals would give $10 million to the state Housing Trust Fund, while Ducey’s budget allocates no money to the oft-neglected fund. State support for subsidized housing plummeted during the recession, but last year’s budget reversed course by providing a one-time influx of $15 million to the fund.

While the $10 million proposed in this year’s budget is a start, Fann said she and other Republican senators would like to spend more. Democrats in both chambers have made increased funding for housing a key part of their platform.

Bucking Tradition

Settling these differences and getting a budget passed will be something of a novel process. In the past, budget negotiations took place much later in the session, and the governor tended to set the terms of debate, whereas now the dual budgets from the Legislature give lawmakers a bit more bargaining power.

“It wasn’t necessarily contentious, but it was extremely slow,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who for years served as House Appropriations chair. “We would make a proposal and it would take days to come back – then the change was minor.”

Now, Kavanagh, who still serves on the Appropriations Committee, senses a “spirit of greater collaboration,” partly because lawmakers want to finish the budget and hit the campaign trail as soon as possible.

And even once there’s a unified Republican spending plan, leaders have to fend off holdouts from rank-and-file lawmakers who have specific requests or who feel jilted by a lack of transparency in the negotiations process, a perennial complaint that has persisted this session. This is especially crucial in the House, where one Republican defection means that leaders have to seek Democratic votes to get a budget passed.

“Our votes are never secure,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “We all want what we want for our districts and our constituents.”

As with any fight, cage or otherwise, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

“The fun has yet to begin,” Kavanagh said.

Bill for free tampons to female prisoners likely dead

Tampons and Pads

A House bill that would require the Department of Corrections to provide an unlimited supply of free feminine hygiene products to inmates is most likely dead after it was left off the Rules Committee agenda today.

Rep. Athena Salman’s HB2222 would require DOC to supply an unlimited amount of feminine hygiene products, like tampons and pads, to inmates upon request and would prohibit the agency from charging the women. The bill would also appropriate $80,000 in FY19 to purchase feminine hygiene products.

On Sunday, after noticing that the bill wasn’t on the Rules agenda for Monday afternoon’s committee hearing, Twitter user Steph H. started a campaign titled #LetItFlow where she encouraged users to tweet at or call Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, chairman of the committee, in an effort to get the bill a hearing.

She also asked Twitter users to donate feminine hygiene products to DOC and mail them to Shope’s office.

In a video posted to Twitter by the Arizona House Democrats, Salman also urged people to reach out to Shope.

“If we are going to keep this issue alive, if we are going to keep it moving, your voices are the most critical thing in the bill’s survival,” she said. “We need to do this, we need to make this commitment to the women in our prison system who deserve just basic dignity and respect.”

Shope told the Arizona Capitol Times that he didn’t hear the bill in committee because the issue should be handled administratively, rather than through statute. He added that DOC also assured him the agency would look into it.

Currently, women inmates receive 12 free pads a month. They may request an additional 12 pads, but cannot have more than 24 in their possession at one time.

DOC spokesman Andrew Wilder said the department’s policy provides for a baseline monthly quantity to all female inmates, regardless if they need or use femnine hygiene products. Additional free pads are provided, upon request, he added, though former inmates testifying before the all-male Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee last week said it can be difficult for such requests to be approved.

Inmates are not supplied with tampons, but they can be purchased in the commissary – a financial burden given that they make roughly 15 cents an hour.

Salman’s bill barely made it out of the Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee after Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, joined his Democratic colleagues in supporting the legislation. Rep. Jay Lawrence, chairman of the committee, said he was hesitant at first to hear the bill, and after debating it, said he regretted giving it a chance.

“I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods,” he said.

Without being heard in the Rules Committee, the bill is most likely dead as this is the last week to hear bills in committee in the chamber they were introduced.

The committee is not scheduled to meet again this week, however, unlike other House commiteees, the Rules Committee can meet at any time on any day and is not bound by the rules that govern other committees. But even if the committee does meet again this week before Friday’s deadline to hear bills in committee, Shope said he will not consider it.

It can be resurrected through a strike-everything amendment.

Shope said though he believes 12 pads isn’t enough, the department can correct or address the issue quicker than a legislative solution would.

Wilder said DOC is considering changes to its policy.

“The agency is evaluating revisions to current policy relative to the quality and minimum quantity of feminine hygiene products provided free of charge to all of its female inmates,” he said. “We are confident that concerns can be appropriately addressed administratively rather than through statute.”

Shope said he has yet to receive any donations, but he’s speaking with the House rules attorney to see what he can do with the donations if they do come in. He said he can’t accept them if they’re considered gifts, and he noted that DOC may not be able to accept them either because of procurement rules.

He added that if he is able to receive the donations, but DOC can’t accept them, he’ll donate the supplies to a women’s shelter in his district.

Bill to free hairstylists from state regulation on Ducey’s desk

(Deposit Photos/Nemar)
(Deposit Photos/Nemar)

Arizonans who are having a bad hair day could soon get relief from people who are not licensed by the state.

On a 31-26 margin the House on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation that says people can wash, dry and style someone else’s hair without being licensed as a cosmetologist. That includes the use of curling irons and hair dryers, but no chemicals or scissors.

More to the point, these stylists would legally be able to charge for their services despite the lack of a state license.

Within minutes of that final approval, Gov. Doug Ducey sent out a Twitter message calling SB 1401 a “big win for freedom and Arizona workers,” saying he is “looking forward to signing this bill!”

Tuesday’s vote came over multiple objections from Democrats who pointed out there are diseases that can be spread from customer to customer. They said that a fully trained cosmetologist gets extensive training on not just identifying disease but safe practices.

Instead, SB 1401 would require only that stylists take a course on safety.

But Republicans called the concerns overblown

“You would think we were talking about operating a nuclear reactor here,” complained Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He said that hundreds of millions of Americans manage to shampoo and dry their own hair daily without any training “beyond reading the label.”

“This is like a total no-brainer,” Kavanagh said.

But Kavanagh, under questioning from Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, conceded he never had his hair blown dry or styled with a curling iron. She and others talked about the chances of being burned by someone without training.

Other foes mentioned of diseases like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, which they said can be spread by using the same styling tools on customers. But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who is a doctor, conceded he has never treated anyone who caught MRSA from a hair stylist.

The legislation is the latest move to carve out exceptions to state laws that can require upwards of 1,000 hours of training at a state-licensed school to be a cosmetologist.

Lawmakers already decided more than a decade ago that people who do nothing but braid hair for a living do not need state-mandated training and licensing. And the Board of Cosmetology, facing a lawsuit, has stopped trying to enforce training requirements on those whose total practice consists of plucking eyebrows.

This, however, goes too far for some Democrats.

Powers Hannley said people who go to a hair salon expect that everyone working there is both trained and regulated by the state. This legislation, she said, would require only that any salon employing a hair stylist post a sign informing consumers that isn’t the case.

“The idea that a sign on the wall saying, ‘This activity is unregulated,’ they’re not going to understand that,” she said. Powers Hannley said if her Republican colleagues are determined to go this route the sign should read, “This person has not been trained to do your hair, so buyer beware.”

That, she said, customers would understand.

“This puts the public at an unnecessary risk,” Powers Hannley said.

Others, however, didn’t see the danger.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, pointed out that nearly every hotel provides shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers for guests.

“Maybe we should look at removing those for safety,” he said.

For Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, the issue was more basic than who is qualified to style hair.

“What we’re really talking about is the right to work,” he said, without being regulated.

Campbell said he has talked with cosmetologists and does understand their belief that only those with proper training should be doing this kind of work. And he said that there are arguments to be made for training.

But he said that is not enough to overcome his philosophical objections to regulation.

“I’m going to choose the side of free enterprise, workers’ rights to work without being encumbered,” Campbell said.

That philosophy did not sit well with Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe.

“When I hear ‘free enterprise’ and when I also hear ‘deregulation,’ … that is code for low wages,” she said.


Car registration fee boost proposed to end raid on road cash

Republican lawmakers are proposing an increase in vehicle license fees to end years of raids on dedicated local highway funding that paid for highway patrol operations.

Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

The identical proposals from Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa and Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott mark the latest effort to end the raid of about $95 million a year that is supposed to fund local roads. Worsley pushed a similar bill last year but it died after Senate President Steve Yarbrough refused to allow a formal vote after facing opposition from fellow Republicans.

Ending the raid on the Highway User Revenue Fund known as “HURF” is a longstanding goal of lawmakers from both parties. The fund raid is particularly hard for rural areas that have no way to pay for repairs and renovations without the state money, which comes from gas taxes and vehicle license fees.

Yarbrough said last week that he’ll likely let the proposal proceed this year and see where it ends up. However, he’s concerned about how it makes an end-run around a requirement that bills that increase state revenue require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Worsley said this year’s effort would raise about $8 million by ending an exemption for alternative fuel vehicles. The rest of the $100 million needed for a dedicated highway patrol safety fund would come from giving the Department of Transportation director authority to raise license fees.

“He decides what’s fair,” Worsley said. “And every year we’re not back here fighting over ‘Are we going to sweep it or not? How much are we going to sweep?’ out of the HURF funds.”

Worsley said he didn’t have an estimate of how much fees could go up. But based on state registration numbers, if every vehicle registered in Arizona was assessed $11, it would raise about $90 million.

Allowing a department director to set the amount is the same maneuver that allows the state Medicaid agency leader to assess hospitals to pay for expanding that program. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the Medicaid assessment earlier this year, saying it met the test for avoiding a supermajority vote needed to raise taxes under the voter-approved Proposition 108 by allowing state agency directors to set fees.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid expansion,” Yarbrough said. “Bills like this should be Prop. 108 — I think we should be straight up.”

Four Republican senators are co-sponsoring the Senate bill, meaning it could pass if all Democrats sign on. Campbell’s House version also has three GOP co-sponsors, just shy of the commitment needed to guarantee passage if Democrats back it en masse.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he believes Campbell’s proposal could pass this year.

“Considering the number of people who have come to me with the issue of HURF and transportation and infrastructure funding, I imagine it will have a lot of support,” Mesnard said.

Worsley also proposed a gas tax increase last year to end the raid, but the measure, too, failed. He said he has talked with Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff about his new proposal.

“They are not supporting the bill, but they’re saying see if you can get it up to us,” he said.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said he will support “good ideas” but declined to comment on pending legislation.

Republican Rep. Noel Campbell debates a budget amendment in the Arizona House of Representatives on May 4, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Campbell acknowledged that persuading Republicans opposed to tax increases will be difficult and there will likely be blowback in his conservative district. But he said the fee isn’t a tax and the need is dire.

“All I know is I’ll take heat. But there’s three essential things the government has to do, and all the rest are fluff,” he said. “The three essentials are transportation, public safety and public education. And for too long we’ve ignored transportation.”

Court should support jury verdicts, businesses over trial attorneys


As a conservative Republican who has dedicated my life to public service, I have always appreciated the importance of government partnering with business. I was pleased when Gov. Doug Ducey selected U-Haul International’s Tempe manufacturing and technical facility as the back-drop for his 2018 campaign kick-off. Right here in Arizona, U-Haul employs tens of thousands of hard-working Arizonans in its Phoenix corporate headquarters, manufacturing facilities, stores and local dealerships, supporting local businesses and our state’s vibrant economy.

That’s why, as chair of the House Transportation Committee, I was very disappointed when it recently came to my attention that in February 2020, the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned a jury defense verdict in favor of U-Haul, after a four-week jury trial, based solely on one sentence found in 13 pages of jury instructions.

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that U-Haul violated Arizona law because it did not put brakes on a tow dolly. As a resident of Yavapai County, avid motorcyclist, and citizen legislator I spend a great deal of time driving. U-Haul’s tow dollies are used to tow vehicles – the front wheels of the vehicle are placed on the tow dolly and the rear wheels of the vehicle ride on the street – and can be towed either using a customer’s vehicle or a U-Haul truck. For 50 years U-Haul had reasonably relied on its testing and science that brakes were not necessary on tow dollies.

In fact, in 2018, the Arizona Legislature, in a bill first heard in the House Transportation Committee, clarified Arizona’s law and expressly stated that tow dollies do not need to have brakes. With Arizona juries, common sense prevailed. The jury in the lawsuit came to the exact same conclusion when it found in favor of U-Haul, even though the jury was never informed that the Legislature had separately clarified the law. According to the Court of Appeals, the re-trial would involve the exact same issue already presented to the first jury – whether the lack of brakes on U-Haul’s tow dolly caused the accident involved in the litigation.

I am pleased that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Truck Renting & Leasing Association, Arizona Association of Defense Counsel, and PLAC Product Liability Advisory Council all intend to file amicus briefs in support of the jury’s defense verdict and U-Haul. They know jury trials of this magnitude and length are costly for the citizens of the state of Arizona. First, the court’s resources and funds spent by the parties for a trial of this length are significant. Second, a jury of ten individuals already had to forgo nearly a month of their own time and their jobs to hear this case in 2018. Unless the Supreme Court steps in and reverses the Court of Appeals’ decision, this issue will be tried again, in front of another jury, on the same issue that has been decided in favor of U-Haul, at a great cost to the economy and the citizens of this state.

We must focus on growing our economy by developing policies that protect consumers and support business, while defending against those who attempt to damage our way of life, especially given the current economic climate.

Noel Campbell is chair of the Arizona House Transportation Committee, a legislator from Yavapai County, and may be reached at [email protected].

Dems for sales tax hikes before they were against them


Arizona Democratic leaders oppose a sales tax hike to provide new revenues for teacher pay raises, despite supporting sales tax increases in previous years.

At 8.33 percent, Arizona already has one of the highest combined state, county and municipal sales tax rates in the country, wrote House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, and other top Democrats in an April 24 letter to Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Another increase would unfairly put the burden on the poor and working class, who pay an inordinately larger share of their income on sales tax,” the lawmakers wrote.

Allies of the governor were quick to point out that Democrats have supported sales tax hikes in the past. Democrats voted earlier this year for the extension of Proposition 301, a six-tenths of 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000. And Hobbs was among 12 Senate Democrats who sponsored a measure in 2017 that not only would’ve extended Prop. 301, but increased the tax from six-tenths of 1-cent to a full 1-cent. Rios and House Democrats backed the measure as well.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said it’s hard to keep track of Democrats’ “shifting positions” on sales tax, noting that Democrats were boasting of their proposal to increase the Prop. 301 sales tax only months ago.

“It’s tricky,” Hobbs said when asked about the Democrats’ position on sales taxes.

The party’s views on sales taxes have always been more nuanced than simply supporting tax increases, Hobbs said. She noted that in 2010, Democrats were split on Proposition 100, a temporary three-year sales tax for education championed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. Some supported it, while others voted against referring the measure to the ballot.

And Hobbs noted the obvious – Democratic-sponsored legislation rarely gets approved in Arizona. Sponsoring a measure to increase the Prop. 301 sales taxes was intended to start a conversation about education funding. Democrats had no expectations the proposal would become a reality, she said.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who sponsored the 2017 measure to increase Prop. 301 to a 1-cent tax, said a certain level of sales taxes are acceptable. But some Republican efforts are too reliant on the sales tax, when there are other means of boosting state revenues, he said.

Proposals such as Rep. Noel Campbell’s call for a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax are an example of Republican efforts to solve all the state’s education funding woes with sales taxes, Quezada said.

Campbell’s proposal “shifts the burden of funding our public schools system onto those who can least afford it with a sales tax. That’s just flat out wrong,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who’s running for governor against Ducey this fall.

Campbell, R-Prescott, criticized Democrats from the House floor for opposing a plan similar to those they’ve supported in the past.

“It is a solution to all the problems that we’re dealing with in education,” he said, adding that though the idea has been around for a long time, no one was interested in tackling it.  Campbell called tax hikes “the forbidden word,” but noted that lawmakers know that’s the only way to generate new revenue.

“Maybe it’s not perfect but it solves the problem,” he said. “This will do everything that you, Democrats, say you want done.”

If other members have an idea, they should put it in writing, too, or “shut up,” Campbell said. “Let’s quit trying to play for the election. Let’s get something done here.”

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, told Campbell his isn’t the only proposal on the table. Policymakers should look at spreading the burden of funding education more equitably.  “But that compromise has to include a less regressive way of raising that money,” he said, referring to Campbell’s proposal. “Your plan only proposes one way.”

Democrats have for years called for the elimination of certain corporate income tax cuts and the rolling back of income tax breaks for high earners, Farley said.

“There are people who are doing well in this economy, a whole lot of people who are not. If you shift the burden of funding public schools onto those who are not doing well, that’s not what most people in Arizona believe you should do,” he said.

Don Shooter expelled from Arizona House in wake of sexual harassment investigation

Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona House of Representatives voted 56-3 today to expel Rep. Don Shooter.

Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, originally was going to punish Shooter, R-Yuma, with censure for what investigators found to be his serial sexual harassment of colleagues and lobbyists.

Taking the floor, Shooter did not apologize, but said he “took it like a man.” He left before the vote was over.

After his ouster, Shooter told the Arizona Capitol Times, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.”

He once aspired to be speaker of the chamber and chaired the Appropriations Committee just last year. Shooter had served in the Legislature since 2011, first as a senator. He joined the House last year.

A letter Shooter penned to his colleagues Thursday morning was the tipping point for Mesnard.

In his letter, Shooter described allegations by an unnamed women who had been harassed by her “elected boss” at the Capitol. He said investigators did not include her account in the report and therefore the report was incomplete.

“What has been done to her, by omitting her story and not giving it the respect it deserves you disgrace the mission of the sexual harassment investigation committee and our chamber,” Shooter wrote. “No matter what happens to me, this young woman deserves better. The process matters. The truth matters; the process must be fair and complete.”

In a written statement, Mesnard said Shooter’s “improper conduct” had escalated, forcing him to move to expel the Yuma lawmaker.

He added that investigators, “who Rep. Shooter praised on Tuesday,” had examined every allegation made, including the one Shooter referenced in his letter.

“I’ve spoken with the individual referenced by Rep. Shooter, and the individual has stated that the letter does not reflect the individual’s reaction to the report. Rep. Shooter’s letter is nothing more than an effort to use the individual as a pawn – despite repeated requests from the individual’s attorney that Rep. Shooter not do anything to jeopardize the individual’s anonymity. He’s not standing up for the victim but rather is further victimizing the individual,” Mesnard said.

“Rep. Shooter’s letter represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation, and yet another violation of the House’s harassment policy,” he continued.

Today’s vote marks the first expulsion of a lawmaker since 1991 when the Senate ejected Carolyn Walker, then the Senate majority whip, in the wake of the “AzScam” investigation. She and other lawmakers were caught in an undercover sting operation agreeing to take money in exchange for their votes; all the others resigned.

The last House expulsion came in 1948 when two members were removed following a fistfight.

In the interim, other legislators have quit prior to their colleagues having to actually bring a vote to the floor, including Rep. Daniel Patterson who quit in 2012 amid charges of verbal abuses and harassment of colleagues.

Shooter, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, and Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott voted against the expulsion.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Here’s the full letter Shooter sent to his colleagues:

Dear Members,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. Over the past few months, I have done much soul searching about what it means to be elected, to serve in elected office for the people I represent and our state. I have thought a lot about my actions and those I have caused to feel that I did not value by my careless, insensitive and offensive attempts at humor. I have thought a lot about Representative Townsend’s plea on the floor yesterday and the Speaker’s private, but urgent requests since the first week of this painful and public journey to resign.

Much of my focus has been inward and gradually coming to understand the impact of conduct, whether intentional or unintentional, that results in someone feeling demoralized and devalued. These are not just words I am saying because I have to. I care deeply that I have caused others discomfort at best and humiliation at worst. Those who know me, know that has been the hardest part of all of this. When I said that I want to begin to listen and apologize personally, to those who I have wronged, (who are interested) I meant it.

I have respect for those who had the courage to come forward whom I have wronged, because I know it has not been easy. They have paved the way for so many others to feel empowered and to educate those of us who just didn’t understand. Which is why I am writing today. Not to preserve myself but to honor one woman who reluctantly came forward even though she was terrified about the consequences of speaking the truth. With limited means, she hired an attorney and faced the biggest fear of her life because, ultimately, she dared to believe that she did not deserve to be sexually harassed and when people heard what she had endured, these private, humiliating experiences would be exposed and she would know that she never again would have to quietly and gracefully endure such conduct. She did not contact the media. She contacted and met with the independent investigator. It was the hardest thing she has ever done in her life. Yet, inexplicably, the pattern of outrageous conduct that she described, including comments allegedly made directly to her by her elected boss, as well as being subjected to her boss’ exposed genitalia, were not detailed in the report. What has been done to her, by omitting her story and not giving it the respect it deserves you disgrace the mission of the sexual harassment investigation committee and our chamber. No matter what happens to me, this young woman deserves better. The process matters. The truth matters; the process must be fair and complete.

I ask that before there is further discussion of the results of this investigation, the investigator be permitted to bring forward, with dignity and compassion, and ideally anonymously because I am certain that she has lost all faith in the system. This historic report must not hurt those it was intended to protect and empower. I ask that all of you honor the courage of this young woman whose only mistake, at this point, was the mistake of believing her voice mattered. Before we close this effort and consider consequences, I ask that the investigator not be restricted from describing and shining a light on this young woman’s agony. How dare this young woman be dismissed and hidden when she risked so much to come forward. If that is not permitted, fortunately, those with firsthand knowledge can come forward and right this wrong in the ethics committee.

I have come to understand the devastating impact of sexual harassment and no legislator, me included, has the right to sexually harass anyone. I have heightened sense of awareness and compassion for those I have hurt and have been hurt by others. Starting with my own conduct, allegations must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.



Don Shooter



Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Ex-lawmakers bring baggage to 2022 races

Ten former lawmakers, many of whom have personal or political baggage, are on the ballot for legislative seats this year. Two of them are running against each other. One once represented a district he didn’t live in, and another finished third in a congressional race after revelations of a sexting scandal with a legislative staffer. And another stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as rioters streamed into the building, which is only one of the controversies he’s been involved in.

Steve Montenegro

Steve Montenegro
Legislative District 29
2009-2016, House; 2017, Senate 
Montenegro, whose legislative career included one term as House majority leader, left the state Senate in 2018 to run for the congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko. He was considered a frontrunner until news came out that he had exchanged suggestive texts with a Senate staffer and he lost the primary.

Montenegro tried to mount a comeback in 2020 but lost the Republican primary to incumbent Reps. Joanne Osborne and Timothy Dunn. Since then, Montenegro has been involved with the pro-Trump group The America Project, and with running the Twitter account for the Senate’s audit of the 2020 Maricopa County election results.

Darin Mitchell
Legislative District 3
2013-2018, House
Mitchell’s legislative career could have ended before it started.

It came out soon Mitchell won his first primary, unseating an incumbent, that he was claiming residency in a home in which he didn’t live, while living with his girlfriend in a different legislative district. However, he was declared a legitimate candidate on a technicality and allowed to join the Legislature.

Mitchell vied for the speakership in 2016, losing to J.D. Mesnard. In 2018, with Mesnard running for the Senate, Mitchell was considered one of the two likely candidates for speaker. However, he lost the primary, coming in third in a four-way race, which allowed now-Speaker Rusty Bowers to walk into his current role.

This time, Mitchell is not running in the territory of his former district, which included parts of western Maricopa County and Yuma County. Instead, he’s running in LD3, a safely Republican district that includes Fountain Hills and Carefree.

Noel Campbell

Noel Campbell
Legislative District 3
2013-2018, House
Campbell, a former House member now vying for a Senate spot, has avoided addressing a police investigation after his wife said he beat her. Campbell’s wife Mary Beth reported to Prescott police that her husband had attacked her and hit her repeatedly, not for the first time. She said that he threatened to ruin her life and lie about the assault if she went to the police. When officers followed up, Mary Beth said that the incident was brought on by Campbell’s dementia and that she would not pursue it further. Since then, the investigation has remained inactive. Campbell’s campaign website says that the main reason for returning to the Legislature is “how hard the radical left is working to fundamentally change our country” and that he prioritizes family values. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Anthony Kern

Anthony Kern
Legislative District 27
2013-2020 House 
Kern is a far-right candidate who was at the entrance of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and is running to take the Senate seat from the more moderate Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. Boyer is leaving the Legislature this year after blocking several pieces of Republican sponsored election reform legislation and opposing the Maricopa County audit. Senate President Karen Fann fundraised for Kern in November after a long history of clashing with Boyer, who has openly criticized her leadership. Boyer and Kern subscribe to wildly different ideologies. Kern says he firmly believes that the election was stolen from Trump, that Boyer is a “RINO,” and that the insurrection was pushed by the left. Kern volunteered at the election audit of the 2020 Maricopa County election to count ballots but was removed because his name was on those ballots. He is also part of the “Brady list” of dishonest police officers after being fired from the El Mirage Police Department. Kern then tried to pass legislation that would get his name off that list without telling the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, but failed.

Ken Bennett

Ken Bennett
District 1
1999-2006, Senate
Bennett was the Senate president from 2003-2006 and has been retired from the Legislature ever since and participated in the 2020 Maricopa County election audit. He also served as secretary of state from 2009-2014. Bennett was appointed as the ‘audit liaison’ by Fann in April of 2021. He criticized the Cyber Ninjas review of the county’s ballots in his role, was barred from entering the audit and at one point announced he would quit – before quickly changing his mind. Fann and Bennett are from the same district and, although she isn’t endorsing anyone, she said she is willing to fundraise for him.


David Farnsworth

David Farnsworth
Legislative District 10
1995-1996, House, 2013-2020, Senate
Farnsworth had a decades-long career in the Legislature that seemingly ended last session, but Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers’ decision to run for the Senate prompted him to come out of retirement and compete against him. Farnsworth claimed in 2019 that the Department of Child Safety had a role in child sex trafficking, which he later walked back. He also claimed that Kate Brophy McGee threatened to kill him. Brophy McGee allegedly told Farnsworth that her husband was concerned about his comments regarding trafficking, and Farnsworth reported that Brophy McGee’s husband would “take care of it.” Farnsworth said he interpreted that as a murder plot.


Catherine Miranda

Catherine Miranda
Legislative District 11
2011-14 House; 2015-2018, Senate
Miranda has experience as a teacher, administrator and school board member outside of the Legislature, but is well known for voting ‘yes’ on pro-life legislation sponsored by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy. Miranda also endorsed Republican candidates in elections, including Doug Ducey for governor. She is the only former legislator competing in LD11 where there are no incumbents.




Lauren Hendrix

Laurin Hendrix
Legislative District 14
2009-2010, House 
Hendrix served just one term in the House representing Gilbert, losing the 2010 primary by 401 votes to former House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth and former Gilbert Town Councilman Steve Urie. Hendrix has stayed involved in local politics since then. He was elected to the Maricopa County Community College District board in 2016 and to the Gilbert Town Council in 2020.





Lydia Hernandez

Lydia Hernandez
Legislative District 24
2013-2014, House 
Hernandez left the Legislature in 2014 when she and her seatmate, then-Rep. Martín Quezada, both ran for their west Phoenix district’s open Senate seat and he beat her by about 90 votes. She tried to mount a comeback two years later, but Quezada beat her in a bitter rematch between the two longstanding rivals. Quezada’s supporters accused Hernandez of being a “fake Democrat” for being pro-life and for endorsing a handful of Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey in 2014. Hernandez has also served on the Cartwright Elementary School District Governing Board, and she ran unsuccessfully for Phoenix City Council in 2019.


Maria Syms

Maria Syms
Legislative District 4
2017-2018, House 
Syms is looking to make a comeback in a district that has been redrawn to be more Republican-friendly than the one that kicked her out after one term. Syms, a former Paradise Valley town councilwoman and assistant attorney general, was elected in 2016 to represent LD28, a swing district that had been getting steadily more Democratic. She lost to Democrat Aaron Lieberman in 2018.

Now, Syms is one of six Republicans running for their party’s House nomination in LD4, the successor to LD28. With some of the bluer Phoenix portions of the old district having been added to central Phoenix’s LD5, LD4 is more centered on the suburbs and leans Republican. Only one Democrat has filed to run in the new district, guaranteeing that at least one of the two Republicans who makes it through the primary will score a legislative seat.

Failed union legislation drives primary challenges to incumbent Democrats


As she remembers it, the first time Charlene Fernandez ever had her picture in the newspaper was in 2015, when a photographer caught her on the House floor pushing back on a Republican plan to limit the role of labor unions in construction projects.

That role was already in question. In 2011, the Legislature voted to prevent governments from requiring project labor agreements – a type of pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with a given union – in public projects. Four years later, it was debating a bill prohibiting public entities from requiring that workers on government projects participate in U.S. Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs.

But Fernandez, then just a freshman in an impotent House Democratic minority, couldn’t stop Republicans from passing the bill, which Gov. Doug Ducey eventually signed.

In the time since, Democrats have inched closer and closer to a majority in the state House. Fernandez has ascended to minority leader, with a caucus of vocally pro-labor lawmakers at her back. But Democrats have been unable to make any headway on the labor agreement issue – a central desire of the union constituency that is key to progressive power in the state.

Now, the ghosts of defeat, of deals gone awry and of soured relationships are haunting Fernandez and several of her close allies in the party.

Influential labor attorney and lobbyist Israel Torres is flooding contested Democratic primaries with union cash, using an independent expenditure group run out of his firm to put new bodies in the Democratic caucus, even as most of the party and its allies have turned their attention to November, when Democrats hope to at long last topple a Republican House majority.

Israel Torres
Israel Torres

Revitalize Arizona, a PAC helmed by staffers from the Torres Consulting and Law Group, spent more than $129,000 in the last quarter alone, largely in support of candidates vying for a seat in progressive districts currently represented by progressive Democrats with close ties to Fernandez.

Torres’ enemies – of which there are quite a few – see a personal, petty attempt at consolidating power and settling scores, a union big shot embarking on a perplexing crusade against progressive incumbents with union ties, hoping that his chosen candidates will arise from the ashes of burnt bridges.

“He’s running non-union members against union members,” said Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale. “It’s disgraceful.”

But Torres sees it differently. Democrats in Arizona take union support for granted, he said, and they made promises they couldn’t fulfill. Multiple attempts to restore project labor agreements have surfaced since 2015, and all have failed, including a 2019 effort that is fueling this batch of primary challengers.

“If an elected is in a place to help a worker agenda and chooses not to, or worse — takes a role behind the scenes to kill a worker agenda — then that elected or leadership team should be held accountable by workers,” Torres said. “It’s actually not very complicated.”

Revitalize Arizona, which has raised almost $1.3 million to date, gets almost all of its funding from a group called Residents for Accountability – itself a Torres-run political spending arm for Arizona Pipe Trades Local 469, one of several building trades unions for which Torres acts as a political consultant. It’s been active in Arizona elections for the better part of a decade, and generally supports candidates on both sides of the aisle who could be amenable to union agendas. The size and political influence of the PAC and of the Pipe Trades union make it something of a state chamber of commerce for the left, several lawmakers suggested.

Athena Salman
Athena Salman

Revitalize is spending most heavily on challengers to Andrade and Tempe lawmakers Rep. Athena Salman and Sen. Juan Mendez, who all take pride in their progressive bona fides and their friendliness with organized labor. This is especially the case with Andrade, a vocal advocate for union-backed bills at the Legislature and a rail conductor organized with SMART-TD, a large industrial union.

And yet Torres’ PAC spent more than $1,000 against Andrade just last week, and makes regular expenditures in support of his challenger, a Realtor from Litchfield Park named Teddy Castro, as well as Andrade’s more moderate seatmate, Rep. Cesar Chavez.

The group began its support of the Castro campaign – which Andrade called “bought and paid for” by Torres – in June, when it paid $12,000 to a consulting firm called FieldCorps LLC to support Castro’s run. Around that same time, Castro received a $10,400 donation from Arizona Pipe Trades 469, which consults the Torres Group when making political decisions, a spokeswoman for Torres said.

In LD26, Revitalize has thrown its weight largely behind Debbie Nez Manuel and Jana Lynn Granillo, though the PAC has hedged its bets and spent in support of Salman as well.

Nez Manuel, a Navajo activist who helped lobby the Legislature to approve a study on missing and murdered indigenous women last year, is hoping to take the vacant House seat in the district. But Salman has no intentions of letting Nez Manuel be her seatmate. She’s running on a slate with Mendez – her husband, the district’s incumbent senator and Granillo’s opponent – and Melody Hernandez, a paramedic and union shop steward who’s able to keep up with Salman’s progressive rhetoric and politics.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

Nez Manuel has found herself the darling of several outside groups aside from Revitalize, including the Arizona Integrity PAC, Better Leaders, Better Arizona and others. Integrity PAC, an operation of former Mike Bloomberg 2020 adviser Joe Wolf, is funded mostly through the Arizona Association of Realtors and corporations like Pinnacle West and Southwest Gas. Both it and Better Leaders, Better Arizona are backing business-friendly Democrats in several primaries – as Wolf put it last week, PACs like these support the candidates that are most likely to take meetings with them.

For the record, Nez Manuel denies knowing anything about Revitalize or any of the other groups spending on her behalf, and expressed bemusement with Salman’s attempts at painting her as a corporate-bought moderate.

But Torres said that his electoral spending has nothing to do with broader debates within the party over ideology, bipartisanship and the strength of the leadership team.

“Our strong preference is to not play in Democratic primaries,” Torres said. “However, Revitalize has and will continue to hold electeds accountable — even if that means supporting challengers to … incumbents.”

Torres is mostly referring to a tiff that arose over failed union legislation in the 2019 session. That year, Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, introduced HB2406, a bill that would have effectively reversed the state’s ban on project labor agreement requirements in public works contracts – the logic being that a center-right Republican had a better chance of getting the bill passed than a progressive Democrat.

The previous year, Salman tried and failed to run a similar bill, HB2641, which predictably did not get a hearing in the House Government Committee. Torres had convinced Democratic leadership to let a Republican run the bill that time around, several lawmakers within the party said.

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

But Shope’s bill fared no better, bouncing from committee to committee without a hearing. Even if it passed, its path in the Senate was uncertain. But Andrade hatched a plan. Rep. Noel Campbell, a Prescott Republican who chaired the Transportation Committee, was running a bill to increase the state gas tax, something of a masochistic annual tradition for Campbell. The legislation would substantially increase the tax, which had sat dormant since the 1990s, in order to fund transportation improvements.

The issue could prove toxic for members of both parties, but especially Campbell’s fellow Republicans, who resent increasing taxes for any reason. He would need bipartisan support to get it done, and Andrade told Cambell that Democrats could help if he allowed an amendment restoring project labor agreements on the bill.

How certain Andrade was that this would be possible isn’t clear. He maintains that he knew the plan – which amounted to tacking one controversial bill to another – was full of pitfalls, though it likely presented the only path forward. He said that he was able to convince David Martin, the president of the Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America, to remain neutral on the bill, clearing a potential hurdle.

Campbell, however, said Martin was vociferously opposed to the labor amendment, which Democrats hoped to offer during floor debate.

“The contractors did not want to be tied to that,” he said. “I couldn’t convince Fernandez … to support me without the amendment included in it.”

Without the amendment, Democrats would have to tell their constituents that they backed a tax increase without any wins for unions. It became, in effect, a poison pill: no amendment, no bill.

Ultimately, a last-ditch effort to include the amendment in the bill on the floor failed, as did the gas tax legislation itself.

The failure of those bills outraged Torres, several lawmakers said, but the apparent disinterest by Democrats to push harder for the legislation was even more frustrating. In Torres’ eyes, Andrade and his allies in Democratic leadership espoused union values but couldn’t deliver results. And in private meetings with other Democrats, Andrade was frequently critical of Torres and his personality, several of his colleagues said.

“Andrade was out of his lane,” Torres said. “It’s just politics.”

A year later, Torres is delivering on his promises for accountability. While he’s not funding a challenge against Fernandez, his support of Nez Manuel, Castro and Granillo amounts to a challenge against her coalition ahead of an election that could very well propel her to House speaker – assuming her members don’t back an alternative.

“If [Revitalize’s spending] happens to affect that race, then the leader has nobody to blame but herself,” Torres said.

To Andrade and his allies, the whole affair is preposterous. Democrats are still in the minority — with or without a purported deal to get the labor bill passed, they can’t set the Legislature’s agenda, he said.

“It goes to show, holding personal vendettas is what this is really about,” Andrade said. “Instead of investing money to turn Arizona blue, so we can get PLAs, he’s running his core to basically say that he controls the Legislature.”

It’s just Israel being Israel, suggested Delbert Hawk, the political director of IBEW Local 640 — which used to employ Torres as a consultant.

“The problem I have with him is bully tactics,” Hawk said. “We used to employ them, but we let them go. It wasn’t working … we weren’t seeing anything for that kind of money. People would say, ‘Oh, Israel said to do this.’ I don’t give a (expletive) what Israel said. That’s my local. That’s when I knew we had a problem. It became the Torres Show, the Torres Brand.”


Former Rep. Shooter files suit

Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Thursday not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Don Shooter asks colleagues Feb. 1, 2018, not to expel him from the House on the heels of a report saying he is guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Claiming his rights were violated, ousted state Rep. Don Shooter has filed suit against the state demanding unspecified damages.

In a 41-page lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, Shooter cited what he said are a series of actions taken not just by J.D. Mesnard, at the time the speaker of the House, but also Kirk Adams who was chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey. In essence, Shooter said they all were involved in a conspiracy to silence him for trying to use his position as chair of the House Appropriations Committee to investigate contracts that were being awarded without seeking bids. Shooter is suing Mesnard and Adams in their personal capacity.

But the heart of the complaint filed on his behalf by former Attorney General Tom Horne is that Shooter was denied his due process in the way he was investigated and eventually voted out of the House.

He said the complaints against him by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale and others should have been referred to the Ethics Committee or other special panel, saying that has been the process since the state was formed. In that format Shooter would have had opportunity to present his own evidence and have his counsel question witnesses against him.

Instead, he said, Mesnard farmed out the issue to a committee of House staffers who, in turn, hired outside attorneys to investigate.

Shooter also said his due process rights were violated because his ouster was based on his having violated a “zero tolerance” standard for sexual harassment, a policy that did not exist at the time he was investigated and at the time when colleagues voted 56-3 to eject him from the House. And he charged that Mesnard had the independent investigators he hired to “omit material and exculpatory testimony and evidence,” including allegations against Ugenti-Rita.

The House voted last Feb. 1 to expel Shooter after an investigative report found there was “credible evidence” Shooter had sexually harassed other lawmakers, lobbyists and others. Only Reps. Noel Campbell and David Stringer, both Republicans from Prescott, voted with Shooter against the move, saying a censure would have been more appropriate.

Horne said if his case had gone through the Ethics Committee, the allegations “would have been measured against entirely different policies and the outcome would have been entirely different.”

In the lawsuit, Horne concedes that the expulsion vote was not a judicial proceeding which is subject to certain set rules and protections. But he said that Shooter had a “property right” in his seat in the House, to which he was elected, and cannot be deprived of that without giving him due process.

Aside from the failure to have his case handled by the Ethics Committee, Horne said Shooter said he should have been provided access to the complete investigative file, including the investigators’ notes describing the testimony of witnesses “so that he could properly mount a defense to the allegations raised against him.”

“He should, at the very least, have had timely access to the information in order to question the bias, interest, and motive of his accusers,” the lawsuit states. And Horne also contends that Shooter was libeled throughout the process.

Mesnard has since moved to the Senate. Contacted about the lawsuit, he repeated his statement that neither he nor the House did anything wrong, saying the Arizona Constitution gives the Legislature “broad powers” to discipline its own members “and Mr. Shooter’s expulsion was well within that authority.”

There was no immediate comment from Adams.

GOP lawmaker finds new road in quest of gas tax hike

Traffic cones and mounds of asphalt, while road repairs.
Traffic cones and mounds of asphalt, while road repairs.

Rep. Noel Campbell’s career in Arizona politics is likely over.

The Prescott Republican has made no bones about his distaste for political careerists and his total disinterest in running for re-election. That much is certain. But what’s less clear is whether his departure from the Legislature will also effectively end debate on his signature issue: an increase in the state gas tax, which has sat stagnant since the 1990s.

“If not now, when are we going to do this,” said Campbell, who hass championed an increase on the gas tax for the past several sessions.

He’s continued his push this year with HB2899, which would increase the tax on motor vehicle fuel up to 36 cents per gallon by fiscal year 2022 – double the current rate – and implement a per-gallon tax on natural gas and propane. Additionally, the bill establishes flat tax rates on electric and hybrid vehicles. The bill would index all of these taxes to inflation of the gross domestic product.

It sounds wonky, but Campbell said these taxes are vital for funding the Highway User Revenue Fund, a perennially troubled source of road maintenance monies that never seems to be as full as lawmakers want. A previous Campbell bill to implement a temporary highway safety fee gave HURF almost $100 million last year, but that pales in comparison to the kind of ongoing money necessary to keep up with existing road maintenance needs, let alone undertake new projects.

In 2015, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that maintaining current roads alone would cost $24 billion over the next 25 years. And a study released this week by TRIP, a transportation think tank based in Washington, D.C., estimates that Arizona drivers already pay a combined $10 billion each year in operating costs, vehicle repairs and lost productivity from getting stuck in traffic on the state’s deficient roads.

“The state faces a significant challenge,” said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP.

Arizona hasn’t increased the state gas tax since 1991. The federal government hasn’t increased its gas tax since 1993, and in both cases, inflation and the addition of more efficient vehicles into the fleet mix has significantly diminished the value of the tax.

“If we put an inflator on the gas tax back in 1990, we would have had billions by now,” said Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, one of Campbell’s allies on the issue.

And while there’s a bipartisan consensus that something must be done about road funding, mustering the political will to increase taxes and secure a long-term cash flow is difficult.

The governor’s budget proposal includes hundreds of millions of dollars to fund transportation projects, but not on an ongoing basis. Rather, Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal includes $78 million for a new bridge across the Gila River along the I-10, $50 million for general improvements to the interstate and $45 million to construct a pair of highway lanes on the I-17 between Anthem and Black Canyon City.

Ironically, Ducey poses one of the biggest roadblocks to securing long-term funding.

“Basically, the governor of the state is a tax cutter,” Campbell said.

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

And Campbell’s plan is an unambiguous tax increase. It would add around $1 billion, $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion over the next three years to the state coffers in revenues from the increased taxes.

If the governor were to sign it, he’d be doubling back on a promise central to his image and reputation as a business-first, Republican governor – no new taxes.

That’s assuming that it would get that far. Campbell’s plan has the support of House Democrats and has already passed through his Transportation Committee. But because it would represent a net increase in tax revenue, he needs 40 votes in the House, a threshold he’d be unlikely to meet without beguiling the fiscal hawks in his caucus to bite on a tax increase they’ve sworn to avoid.

But Campbell, one of the most moderate members of the House GOP and an occasional thorn in the side of leadership, is a shrewd negotiator. At some point, the lower chamber will likely vote on Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s tax cut omnibus bill, which has already passed out of the Senate. It’s a massive, intricate piece of legislation that would cut around $360 million in taxes over the next three fiscal years as a result of a variety of tax code changes.

Campbell said there is a small number of “recalcitrant Republicans” in the House who won’t vote for the tax cut as-is — namely a guy named Noel Cambell. And because the margins of the Republican majority in the House are so thin, one defection can kill just about any bill.

As such, Campbell, probably the lone Republican voice calling to increase taxes, is now working to marry his bill with Mesnard’s. The end result would be a net decrease in taxes — meaning that Campbell would no longer need 40 votes – but an overall increase in HURF monies thanks to a hiked up gas tax.

“I want this bill to be acceptable to the governor,” Campbell said. “If I can do this — it’s difficult — the governor could claim victory both ways. He could tout the tax cut, and we’re investing in Arizona. It needs to be done.”

After all, Campbell is a party loyalist, and proud of it. He has already voted with his caucus to repeal the highway safety fee he dreamt up six months ahead of schedule. If he can secure a major legislative accomplishment while helping his colleagues hold onto their seats, all the better.

Under this plan, the gas tax would increase by one cent a year over the next decade, yielding more than $40 million in the first year, which the Arizona Department of Transportation can then use as security to start bonding for road projects. Between this modest increase and the new taxes on electric and hybrid vehicles, the plan would still be revenue-negative, which could help secure much-needed conservative votes, especially given that a tax cut is a non-starter for the entire Democratic caucus.

Mesnard is open to the idea, but only if Campbell can secure Ducey’s approval.

“I have a meeting with [Ducey’s] chief of staff today,” Campbell said March 12. “I wanna hear the reasons why they’re not funding HURF. If [Mesnard] and the governor want their tax bill to come through, they’ve got to go through me.”

Certainly, this process would be much easier if Cambell was getting calls of support from the governor, whom he respects greatly, he said. But that hasn’t happened.

“I just assume if it’s a tax cut the governor will like it,” he said.

There’s a wrinkle in that assumption as well: the governor’s only proposed tax cut is the elimination of income taxes on veterans’ pensions, which would pale in comparison to the tax cut plans coming out of the Legislature. In other words, Campbell has to convince Ducey to accept a tax cut that far surpasses his own plan while also approving a tax increase, something he’s promised not to do.

“My issue is we’re not looking long term,” Campbell said. “What motivates the Legislature is when we have a crisis. God forbid, if a school bus falls off a bridge…that’d get their attention.”

GOP lawmaker proposes legislation to allow ‘dreamers’ in-state tuition

Photo by Zerbor
Photo by Zerbor

Parting ways with party members, a Prescott Republican wants to allow “dreamers” who attend Arizona colleges and universities to pay the same in-state tuition as any other resident.

Rep. Noel Campbell said he’s all in favor of the United States having secure borders. And he acknowledged that the children involved were brought here illegally by their parents.

But Campbell told Capitol Media Services the reality is that these children, many of whom have known no other home, are here to stay. More to the point, he said they already have been educated through high school at public expense.

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

So he figures that it makes no sense to now tell them they can’t finish their education and get trained to do jobs that Arizona needs. And he wants to take his case directly to voters who first approved the restriction in 2006.

Campbell conceded opposition to his HCR 2048 is likely to come from those within his own party.

It was the Republican-controlled Legislature that put the measure on the 2006 ballot. It spells out that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident or is “without lawful immigration status” is ineligible to be charged the same tuition at state colleges and universities available to residents.

All that, Campbell noted, was before the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. It allows those who were brought here as children to not only remain but also to work.

The most recent figures put the number of DACA recipients at close to 700,000 nationally, with about 30,000 in Arizona.

Campbell said they deserve different legal treatment than others not here legally.

“Their parents broke the law, of course,” he said, as compared to the children who had no choice.

Campbell thinks he can make the case to voters in November that the 2006 measure no longer makes sense. The more immediate problem is closer to home.

First, he needs to get House Speaker Rusty Bowers to agree to assign the measure to a committee rather than quashing it. The Mesa Republican said Tuesday he has not yet reviewed the measure and has made no decision.

And even if Bowers sends the bill to a committee, then there’s getting whoever chairs that panel — a Republican — to give it a hearing.

Then there’s lining up the votes.

Campbell said he’s convinced he has Democrat support. But that still leaves him short in a House and Senate where Republicans hold the majority.

The task now, Campbell said, is to convince fellow GOP lawmakers that it’s in their interest to support the plan.

“I told my caucus that we, as Republicans, need to be out front, be proactive, and let the Hispanic community know that we value them and we want them to become members of our party,” he said. “And I think it’s a winning argument.”

More to the point, Campbell said HCR 2048 makes practical sense.

“They’ve gone to school, we’ve educated them,” he said, noting that federal law requires states to provide a K-12 education to all residents regardless of legal status. “And we need to reap the benefits of their education.

The future of DACA is in doubt.

President Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow him to discontinue it, based in part on his argument that if it could be established by executive order it can be similarly ended that way. A ruling on that bid is expected later this year.

But Campbell said the fact remains that the students are here and are likely not leaving, no matter what the high court decides.

“They’re going to be here and we’re not going to deport them,” Campbell said. “They’re good kids and they want to continue their education.”

In fact, Campbell structured HCR 2048 so it won’t matter if DACA goes away.

His measure spells out that the resident tuition would be available to anyone who was eligible for DACA on June 15, 2012, when it was established. That means having been younger than 31 on that date, came to the United States before turning 16, was not convicted of certain crimes and graduated from an Arizona high school.

DACA recipients actually were paying in-state tuition until 2018 when the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that, strictly speaking, they were “without lawful immigration status” despite the executive order.

After that ruling, the Board of Regents came up with a compromise of sorts: A special rate for Arizona high school grads who were not here legally: 150 percent of resident tuition.

Campbell, however, said that special rate really isn’t enough to help for students who graduated from Arizona high schools and, despite their legal status, otherwise meet the definition of Arizona residents.

The differences can be substantial.

For example, basic residential tuition for new students at the University of Arizona is $11,299 a year, not including various mandatory fees. The formula for DACA recipients — 150 percent of resident tuition — sets what they owe at $16,948.

Campbell acknowledged that’s still better than the $34,976 tuition for nonresident undergrads. But he sees no reason for even that 150 percent differential.

There are similar differences at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

There are limits to the scope of what Campbell wants to do. Most notably, the DACA students would remain ineligible for any other state-sponsored scholarship or assistance.

“If they get in-state tuition, they have to borrow it from the bank or their families or whatever,” he said.

Campbell said he doesn’t want this issue to get caught up in the ongoing debate about border security. On that issue, he said he sides with the Trump administration.

“We have to determine who comes into this country,” Campbell said.

“We can’t just let our borders be open,” he continued. “That’s not a racist position.”

But that, said Campbell, is separate from the question of DACA recipients.

High police and fire pension rates send lawmakers scrambling

Coin stacks with letter dice - Pension

A group of Arizona House lawmakers is launching an effort aimed at cutting the soaring costs to communities of police and fire pensions, with its leader warning that cities could end up declaring bankruptcy if legislators fail to act.

The new committee announced by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard comes just over a year after 70 percent of voters approved changes to the state’s public safety pension plan designed to return it to solvency in 20 years.

The voter approval and separate legislative overhauls to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, known as PSPRS, couldn’t address current costs because the state Constitution bans cuts to promised pensions. Instead, they established less generous and lower-cost pensions for new hires and changed how current cost-of-living increases are calculated, a switch intended to stabilize the system over time.

Republican Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott said he understands the difficult task ahead but believes the pension issue requires urgent attention, calling the debt load a “tsunami.”

“We have to start taking a hard look at this because my fear is that two, three years down the road here, cities, municipalities will start filing (bankruptcy),” Campbell said Friday.

There are 230 different entities ai??i?? cities, town, counties and fire districts ai??i?? in the PSPRS plan, and each is responsible for its own liabilities in the plan. Employers have seen median contribution rates soar to an average of 52 percent of each officer’s salary as the value of the pension plan failed to meet expected returns to meet its obligations. A decade ago, the rate was 21 percent, and just last year it was 42 percent.

Some cities, including Bisbee and Prescott, are paying much higher rates. Bisbee is paying 134 percent of an officer’s salary in pension costs, according to plan records. It has $10.8 million in liabilities and only $800,000 in assets on the books.

The state’s largest city, Phoenix, also is struggling with soaring pension costs. The City Council voted Wednesday to ask the state pension plan to allow it to pay off its outstanding debt of $2.4 billion over 30 years instead of 20, a change made possible by a new state law. Phoenix has seen its yearly costs for police and fire pensions soar to $207 million from just $56 million in 2007.

As of last June 30, plan members are owed $14.5 billion in retirement benefits and PSPRS has just $6.4 billion in assets.

Mesnard appointed five Republicans and two Democrats to examine possible solutions, with Campbell chairing the effort. The committee plans a series of meetings across the state, followed by four formal meetings at the Capitol.

Campbell says part of the committee’s job is to raise awareness about the looming problems.

“It’s amazing in talking about this issue how few legislators know anything about it ai??i?? it’s not something being brought to their attention,” Campbell said.

Campbell said one of the big problems is that the pension fund hasn’t come near to meeting the 7A? percent return its actuaries anticipated. Its 10-year average return is less than 5 percent. In addition, generous benefits have sapped returns.

The 2016 overhaul addressed another major cause of plan underfunding, cost-of-living adjustments. The way the plan was set up, excess earnings were put into a fund that doles out automatic increases of up to 4 percent in most years. The problem is that when the overall pension fund had losses, as it did during the Great Recession, excess cash in flush years couldn’t make up the difference because it is sent to the cost-of-living adjustment fund.

Prescott, Campbell’s hometown, has nearly $80 million in unfunded liabilities and plans to ask voters in August to raise city sales taxes from 2 percent to 2.75 percent. Campbell said people are angry about the proposed tax increase, and he worries it won’t put a dent in the pension debt.

More worrisome, he said, are the state Constitution’s limits on cutting promised pensions may crimp any efforts to reform the system.

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House approves bill permitting ‘God enriches’ motto to be posted at schools

state-sealHouse Democrats failed Tuesday in their bid to keep the name of the Almighty out of the classrooms – at least the English version.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said there is legal precedent to allowing schools to post the state motto. And that motto, as on the state seal, is “Ditat Deus.”

SB 1289, however, would permit not just those words to hang on classroom walls.

The measure, which now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey following the 33-23 party-line vote, also would allow the English translation which is “God enriches.” And that, Salman told colleagues, is an illegal religious reference.

But the debate about the change in law went far beyond the words and what they mean. It turned into an often spirited discussion of who believes in God and whether some people were trying to eliminate religion in public life.

Existing state law has a list of things that teachers can read or post in buildings.

It includes the national motto, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, preamble to the Arizona Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Also permitted are writing, speeches, documents and proclamations of Founding Fathers and presidents, published decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and acts of Congress.

SB 1289 would actually add the words “In God we trust” in explaining what the national motto is.

But the bigger concern was adding the state motto — and, specifically, the English translation.

Salman said court rulings have accepted the use of the national motto as not so much a statement of religious belief but instead as “ceremonial deism.” That’s how the motto even shows up on U.S. currency.

And Salman even appeared willing to accept allowing the posting of the words “Ditat Deus” since those are, in fact, the words on the seal.

“This bill goes a step further and translates the Latin meaning into ‘God enriches,’ which loses its protection under the ceremonial deism,” Salman said.

“This bill walks down a dangerous pathway of then having a religious interpretation,” she continued. “And that puts our schools at risk for lawsuits.”

Salman’s efforts to curb the measure drew derision from several Republicans.

“I find it interesting that we have people who want to protect us from God at almost any cost,” said House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“The idea that you interpret something from Latin to English all of a sudden makes something objectionable is really kind of silly,” he said. “The idea that somehow children … are not going to live up to our expectations that they become good people because somebody mentioned God to them I think is really one of the crassest political things I’ve ever heard.”

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said the opposition left him confused.

“I would truly like to know how many members do not trust in God,” he said. “And I wonder how many members think that God does not enrichen our lives.”

And then he got more personal, saying he knows his “Democrat friends” believe in God and trust God.

“Why you would vote to take that out of the state motto is beyond belief,” Campbell said.

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said those comments ignore the fact that out of her 200,000 constituents “there certainly may be those who do not believe in God.”

“I think we want to be very careful when we use that term in schools,” she said.

There also are atheists in the Legislature itself including Salman.

And Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle, spoke about the forced conversion of indigenous people. He also told colleagues that he, too, used to be a Christian “until I came to the realization of how oppressive the mindset can be.”

“It has substantiated and justified slavery,” Descheenie said. “It has substantiated and justified acts of genocide.”

For that matter, he is not exactly pleased with existing law about the posting of the Declaration of Independence, pointing out it refers to the native tribes as “merciless Indian savages.”

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told Salman he does not understand all the fuss about posting “God enriches” in classrooms.

“It’s an accurate translation of the Latin,” he said.

“It’s a good translation,” Boyer continued. “And so I guess I don’t see the problem that you do.”

House committee passes new car-registration fee

Unable politically to hike the state gasoline tax to help pave and repair roads, a House panel voted Wednesday to impose a new fee when people register their cars and trucks every year.

Republican Rep. Noel Campbell debates a budget amendment in the Arizona House of Representatives on May 4, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)

HB 2166 would empower the head of the state Department of Transportation to impose a charge that would, when applied to all vehicles, raise enough money to fund the Highway Patrol. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who crafted the measure, figures it would come out somewhere between $17 and $19 a year.

The 7-1 vote by the House Committee on Transportation and Technology sends the measure to the full House.

Campbell, who chairs the panel, has been beating the drum for years to find additional dollars to not only build new roads but fix existing ones.

“Nobody enjoys raising taxes, of course not,” he said. “But you know the condition of the roads and bridges and infrastructure in this state.”

The problem has its roots in the fact that the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991, when the average price of a gallon of fuel was $1.14.

Complicating that is that while the number of vehicles on the roads has risen, they are more fuel efficient. So gas tax revenues have not increased as fast as the miles driven.

Hiking the tax has proven politically unacceptable, with Gov. Doug Ducey on record in opposition to any adjustment.

What makes matters worse, Campbell said, is that up to $120 million a year of gas taxes and vehicle registration fees have been siphoned off to fund the Highway Patrol.

Campbell said that was done to help balance the budget during the Great Recession. He said the diversion should no longer be necessary given the improvement in the economy, yet it continues.

What HB 2166 would do, Campbell said, is ensure a dedicated source of dollars to fund the Highway Patrol, freeing up those dollars for the purpose he believes they are being collected: road repairs.

Robert Bulechek, an energy efficiency analyst from Tucson, said Campbell has the right goal.

“We need to raise revenues for road maintenance,” he told lawmakers. “The deferred maintenance alone in Pima County runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

But Bulechek said Campbell was approaching the idea all wrong. He said any fees should be based on the use of the roads and the pollution produced — the kind of thing reflected in a gasoline tax — rather than a flat fee.

Campbell’s measure also is written to phase out the special extra-low vehicle registration fee owed by those who have purchased alternative fuel vehicles, vehicles that use the same roads as those powered with gasoline and diesel.

“That’s not fair,” he said.

That provision, however, drew concern from Matt Ligouri, lobbyist for Southwest Gas Corp.

He said many companies have made large investments in purchasing vehicles that can be fueled using compressed natural gas. Ligouri said they were counting on the lower registration fees to offset both the higher cost of CNG-fueled vehicles and the capital costs of installing the equipment to fuel them up.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s press aide, said the governor for the moment has no position on Campbell’s new fee, saying his boss would have to study the issue further.

House GOP caucus cold to gas tax proposal


A proposal to double the state’s gasoline tax is in trouble.

On Thursday, several Republican lawmakers told Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, they would not support his proposal for a three-step increase in the levy that eventually would bring it to 36 cents a gallon. Their comments came even after House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, urged support, telling them that the state’s road construction and maintenance needs exceed the amount of money the 18-cent-a-gallon tax now raises.

Campbell likely has the support of the 29 Democrats in the 60-member chamber. That, combined with his own vote and that of Bowers and Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, gets him a majority.

But a state constitutional provision requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any increase in taxes. And Campbell conceded he doesn’t have that now – and may not be able to get it.

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

Bowers said one option would be for Campbell to scale back the proposal, perhaps with a smaller increase spread over a longer number of years. And, if nothing else, the speaker said Campbell should at least pursue putting an automatic inflation index into the current 18-cent levy to ensure that its buying power does not erode further

There is another option: Take the issue directly to voters. Several GOP lawmakers said they might be willing to support that.

And there’s a procedural advantage in going that route. It takes only a simple majority of the House and Senate to refer any plan to the ballot.

But Bowers told Capitol Media Services there’s a flip side to that.

Most of the voters live in Maricopa County where residents already have approved a sales tax which has resulted in new dollars for both construction of an extensive urban freeway system and additional dollars for road maintenance.

And that, Bowers said, may result in voters in Maricopa County deciding that the state really doesn’t need additional road revenues, effectively overriding the votes from everywhere else.

“If it doesn’t bite you, you don’t feel it,” he said.

Political Will

Central to the issue is what Campbell contends – and many of his colleagues agree — is the poor condition of some state roads. He said doubling the levy and imposing new fees on hybrid and electric vehicles which also use the roads could raise an additional $600 million a year.

But convincing Republicans to actually vote for the increase has proven more difficult – and more frustrating for Campbell.

“What we lack in this body is political will,” he told fellow Republicans during a caucus on Thursday.

“What did we come down here for, to just keep getting elected?” Campbell said. “Is that all we do is elected and do nothing?”

That drew a sharp reaction from Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“I disagree with the sponsor on this bill,” he said. “But that does not make me somehow only interested in my own interest, not that of the public.”

Campbell apologized. But he said that does not undermine the need for the additional dollars.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said the state is the victim of its own decision decades ago to set a flat gas tax, with no inflation indexing. He said if there had been an index the current levy would be 35 cents a gallon.

“This has been 30 years in the making,” Thorpe said of the issue.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, did not dispute that. But his issue is the methodology.

“I would just suggest to you that you send it to the voters,” he said.


That’s also the belief of Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake.

“It is the public’s money,” he said. “They should have a vote in this.”

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, also thinks voters should get the last word. But he’s not convinced that most Arizonans actually would go along.

“When I talk to my constituents, yes, roads and transportation comes up as an important issue,” Finchem said.

“But it’s like No. 5 on the list,” he said. “I think it’s wholly appropriate for us to take that to the ballot and say, ‘OK, just how important is that to you?”’

And Finchem suggested that the measure might gather more legislative support if it had a smaller price tag.

Even going the route of putting it on the ballot, however, will draw GOP opposition.

“I don’t think we should be doing anything at all here,” said House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert.

Campbell was somewhat bemused that he has support from some Republican colleagues to put the issue on the ballot.

He tried to go that route in the past and have the issue referred to the 2018 ballot. But he could not round up the votes for that.

“You know what? It’s kind of like any way you want to go they want to block you and say, ‘That’s not the right way, we should go the other way, ‘ ” he told Capitol Media Services after the caucus. “They find a million reasons why they don’t do it.”

Still, Campbell said if he can’t get the 40 votes in the House he may ask Bowers to provide a way for him to try to refer the issue to the 2020 ballot.

House passes measure to keep cities from banning ‘dark money’

State lawmakers voted Tuesday to block any efforts by Arizona cities and counties to find out – and inform the public – who is funneling money into local elections through nonprofit groups.

On a 33-25 margin the Republican-controlled House voted to prohibit local government from requiring  organizations declared to be tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service from registering as political action committees, even if they are putting money into races.

More to the point, it would preclude any requirement that these so-called “dark money” groups identify donors. And it would bar local governments from auditing the books of these groups or requiring them to respond to subpoenas, even if there were allegations that they were violating campaign finance laws.

HB 2153 now goes to the Senate, which also is dominated by Republicans.

The legislation comes two years after lawmakers voted to grant more anonymity to donors to organizations that are putting money into independent campaigns for statewide and legislative races. Foes of disclosure have now turned their attention to local races.

Rep. Vince Leach (R-Tucson)
Rep. Vince Leach (R-Tucson)

Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who has championed this measure, conceded that no Arizona community has so far sought to impose such reporting requirements on nonprofit organizations. Instead, he argued, it was designed to get out in front of the issue before some community could approve measures like one that exists in Santa Fe, N.M.

But the legislation does not exist in a vacuum. It comes as voters in Tempe are set to vote next month on a proposal to require that any group spending at least $1,000 on independent campaigns to disclose their donors. HB 2153, if signed into law, would preempt such an ordinance.

At the heart of the debate is a contention by Leach and other supporters that requiring disclosure could result in individual donors being harassed.

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said the measure is badly flawed.

He said an organization can qualify for nonprofit status from the IRS if it does not spend a majority of its funds to influence elections. But Clark said that has no meaning when there are major donors on both the Left and Right who have deep pockets and still can spend multiple millions of dollars to influence elections without endangering that nonprofit status.

Clark said this isn’t just about disclosing on TV commercials and mailings what group has paid for it, along with the ability to find out who is behind that group.

“It’s about the money that that organization, many organizations can spend to intimidate lawmakers at all levels,” he argued.

“It is very cheap,” Clark said. “And now it’s going to be even easier with this bill to hide it.”

But the real issue comes down to what most Republicans and multiple business groups contend is the right of individuals and businesses to influence elections anonymously.

The lone exception to that all-GOP support during Tuesday’s debate was Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott.

“I believe in anonymity,” he told colleagues. And Campbell said he believes that people have a right to give however much they want to political campaigns.

“But I also believe a citizen should take a step forward and own what he believes in,” he said, saying that’s why he supports disclosure. Campbell said lawmakers should do what they can to fight “dark money.”

“I think it pollutes our system,” he said. And Campbell said he disagrees with the historic 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision which opened the door to corporations having the right to spend money to influence elections.

“If it was up to me, only a living human being could give money,” he said.

Of some note is that both sides cited the writings of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“There are laws against threats and intimidation,” the now-deceased justice wrote in that 2010 ruling, saying that allowing corporations to give does not mean that they — or anyone — have a constitutional right to do so anonymously. “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts foster civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”

But Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, hung her vote to allow donors to hide their identities on comments Scalia made two years later while discussing that earlier ruling and political commercials.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech, the more the merrier,” the justice said in 2012.

“People are not stupid,” Scalia continued. “If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”


House Republicans choose Rep. Bowers to lead them

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.

Newly elected House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, inherits a chamber where he can’t afford to alienate a single Republican.

Bowers, chosen Wednesday by fellow Republicans to run the House for the next two years, finds the edge of the majority party clipped from 35-25 for the last two years to just 31-29 after Tuesday’s election as Democrats apparently have picked up four seats. And what makes that significant is it takes 31 votes for final approval of any measure.

Warren Petersen
Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

What that does, Bowers acknowledged, is empower any individual Republican with the ability to hold out their vote on priorities of the GOP leadership until the measure is altered to address his or her concerns.

But Bowers,, a Mesa resident, said the reverse holds true for the Democrats who could find someone defecting to support a Republican bill if he or she gets something in return.

“Every member of either caucus has a great amount of authority and power,” said Bowers who has 10 years of legislative experience, including two as Senate majority leader.

“It makes leadership more sensitive to each member’s needs and wants,” he said. “And those we’ll just have to work through.”

And that presents challenges for House GOP leaders who also include Warren Petersen of Gilbert as majority leader and Becky Nutt of Clifton as majority whip.

“It’s going to be a wild ride just keeping the herd going,” Bowers said.

One area that could get more attention is on transportation funding.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has been pushing for new sources of revenues to both fix existing roads and bridges and build new ones.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Arizona’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been hiked since 1991, when 18 cents was worth more than now. And then there’s the fact that new vehicles are more fuel efficient, meaning that gas tax revenues are not increasing as fast as the miles driven.

Becky Nutt, R-Clifton
Becky Nutt, R-Clifton

With Campbell now a four-year veteran and the need for the GOP to hang on to every vote, the lawmakers who want new dollars – particularly those from rural areas – have additional political muscle.

“I know that more money is needed for transportation because I drive on it and you drive on it,” said Bowers. And he said that this can’t simply be seen as a rural problem.

“We all enjoy the rural parts of this state, whether we’re urbanized or elsewise,” he said.

What Bowers also inherits is a surplus that could be close to $1 billion when the new fiscal year begins. And while that creates opportunities for new spending, he said the state also finally needs to focus on really balancing the state’s books.

Bowers pointed out that the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget has been met now for years by deferring expenses due in one fiscal year to be paid in the next year. That practice, called a “rollover,” currently accounts for more than $930 million.

And when the state was in debt during the Great Recession, it sold off both the state House and Senate with an agreement to lease it back until paid off in 2030.

The amount still owed at the end of this fiscal year will be about $710 million, with interest being paid on what’s left.

“We need to start finally chipping away on this debt,” Bowers said.

One other big priority is water supply – and efforts to come up with a drought contingency plan in the likelihood that Arizona will lose some of its allocation of Colorado River water.

“There have been some wrinkles of late,” he said.

“We’re going to keep talking and keep listening and considering all the options on the table,” Bowers said. That also includes making sure that all sources of water are part of any deal.

Lawmakers jockey for leadership roles in House, Senate

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

The day after the November 6 election will be followed by another kind of vote, as elected Arizona senators and representatives will meet with their fellow Republicans and Democrats to choose leaders for their respective parties.

Some of those leadership races are all but decided, but others may hinge on who gets elected, and who doesn’t, when voters head to the polls.

Those elected leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate will be responsible for shepherding policies through the Legislature in 2019, and just as importantly, will have the power to block the passage of bills they oppose. The House speaker and Senate president are responsible for assigning bills to committees and scheduling bills for votes on the floor of each chamber.

And caucus leaders help set agendas for Republicans and Democrats, while also serving as a unifying force to keep their respective party members working in concert to back those agendas.

Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers will cast leadership votes on November 7, less than 24 hours after polls close on election night.

Arizona House of Representatives
Arizona House of Representatives

House GOP

Rep. Rusty Bowers of Mesa is considered a shoo-in to serve as the next House speaker, though he’s not running unopposed. Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley claims he’s one of the “serious contenders,” while Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott has flirted with running for the post.

Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale is locked in a two-way race to serve as the GOP majority leader against Sen. Warren Petersen of Gilbert, who’s running for the House this election while also seeking a leadership post. Kern claims to have 18 votes in his favor, enough to win the chamber assuming the 35 member Republican Caucus doesn’t grow in size.

Reps. David Cook of Globe and Becky Nutt of Clifton are the two Republicans running to serve as majority whip. Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican running for the House, recently dropped out of the race for whip and threw his support behind Cook.

House Democrats

Reps. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix and Charlene Fernandez of Yuma are locked in a battle to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Bolding can boast of a slate of supporters, having teamed up with Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson, who would serve as assistant minority leader, and Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson, who would serve as whip. Fernandez, the current whip, has the mutual support of Rep. Randy Friese, who would like to continue to serve as assistant minority leader.

Reps. Athena Salman of Tempe and Richard Andrade of Glendale are also running for whip, though Fernandez has not endorsed either candidate.

Fernandez said she’s expecting more legislative success from Democrats in the next session: “We had like six bills that went to the Governor’s Office, which is ridiculous. We have great ideas and we represent more than 40 percent of Arizona,” she said.

Bolding said the Democrats are assured a greater voice next session because they’ll have a larger caucus.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that we pick up seats in the House. The question is how many,” he said.

Senate-2Senate GOP

The only contested leadership race among Senate Republicans is perhaps the closest of the year. Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott said the race for president is too close to call, especially considering several Senate races in traditionally Republican districts may be closer than usual. Her opponent in the leadership race, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, is by his own words “running scared” to get elected to the Senate in Legislative District 17.

Assuming both are elected to the Senate, the winner may be decided by comparing the number of re-elected senators to the number of House members crossing over. Fann would presumably have the upper hand attracting votes from senators she served with the past two years, while Mesnard may have the loyalty of representatives who served under his leadership in the House.

Fann said it’s a “shame” Mesnard decided to run for leadership at all, noting that a freshman senator has never served as president, but Mesnard argued he’s the best choice because of his experience leading the House. He also cites his prior work as a Senate research staffer.

“This is a historically unique situation happening in the Senate, which makes it all the more important for someone who has both leadership experience at the highest level and intimate familiarity with the Senate… to step in,” Mesnard said.

As for the other GOP leadership posts, Sen. Rick Gray of Peoria is running unopposed to serve as majority leader, while Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City is the lone candidate for whip.

Senate Democrats

Sens. David Bradley of Tucson and Martin Quezada of Glendale would like to lead the Democrats, but both are preparing for an even better outcome for the traditionally minority party in the Senate – the possibility of a split chamber, or perhaps the Democrats winning enough seats to hold a majority.

Bradley’s pitched himself as a seasoned legislator about to serve his last term in office, offering his guidance in a letter sent to all Democrats, and independents, running for the Senate. Quezada, who served as co-whip the past two sessions, said he’s “in great shape” to step up and serve as minority leader, though he’s also focused on how to negotiate a split chamber.

While Bradley acknowledged that he’d be happy to serve as Senate president, Quezada said he’s focused on other positions of power.

“My ultimate goal is a fair and equal division of power,” Quezada. “I don’t think the Senate president has to be a Democrat. It could be a Republican. But I think a Democrat should have a powerful chairmanship if that were the case.”

Rounding out the field of leadership candidates are Sen. Lupe Contreras of Avondale, who serves as co-whip with Quezada, and Rep. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix, who’s running for her second stint in the Senate. Those two would occupy the positions of assistant minority leader and whip, though it’s unclear who’d serve in which capacity.

Lawmakers pass bill to give bureaucrat authority to set vehicle registration fees

This Nov. 9, 2017, photo shows that even in the middle of the day, the I-10 often has heavy traffic. Vehicle emissions are a main contributor to ozone air pollution in Phoenix, a city built around the use of cars. (Photo by Jenna Miller/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Jenna Miller/Arizona Capitol Times)

It could soon cost more to register your car or truck in Arizona.

On a 17-13 vote Monday, the Senate gave final approval to allowing the director of the Department of Transportation to levy a fee on each vehicle.

But HB 2166, already approved by the House, does not spell out how much that fee would be. Instead, it tells the agency chief to raise enough to fund the Highway Patrol and a little bit more for good margin.

Legislative budget analysts say the amount ADOT would need to raise is $148.9 million. And that translates out to $18.06 for every vehicle, above and beyond the normal registration fee.

The measure, which now goes to the governor, also will mean a sharp hike in the minimal fee now imposed on those who purchase alternate fuel vehicles. Beginning in 2020, the levy will be based on the price of the vehicle, just as it is now for cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels.

The legislation — and the decision to leave the fee up to the ADOT director — is the culmination of a multi-year effort to find new dollars to help build new roads and repair existing ones.

That is supposed to be financed largely through the gasoline tax. But that 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been raised since 1991when gasoline was in the $1.20-a-gallon range.

And while there are more vehicles on the road, they also are more fuel efficient, with the number of road miles driven — and the wear and tear on the roads — increasing faster than new revenues.

What’s made matters worse is that current and former governors and lawmakers, looking to balance the budget, have siphoned off some of those gas tax revenues to pay for the Highway Patrol. Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said that has left fewer dollars for both urban and rural transportation needs.

And given the unwillingness of lawmakers to hike the gas tax, Worsley said funding the Highway Patrol out of a fee on all vehicles using the roads seemed to be the most politically palatable.

But the method of raising the money drew catcalls from several lawmakers.

The Arizona Constitution spells out that any increase in taxes and fees can be approved by only a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. And that margin is not there.

So the measure crafted by Worsley along with Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, leaves the actual amount to be raised to the ADOT director. And a recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling concluded that such agency-raised fees are not subject to that two-thirds vote.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, suggested to his colleagues that there’s something sneaky about that.

“Don’t kid yourselves,” he said.

“This is a tax increase,” one he said should require a two-thirds vote, Petersen said. “But, unfortunately, this is a nice little loophole to get around it, a loophole that should be closed.”

He called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because the levy will be determined not by elected legislators but an official appointed by the governor.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucrat to go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” Petersen said.

What’s even worse, Petersen said, is that there is no guarantee that once the new vehicle fee funds the Highway Patrol that the money saved will be used for transportation needs.

“How is this happening?” he asked.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, also balked at approving a yet-to-be-determined fee.

“I just can’t in good conscience pass something I don’t know what it is exactly the amount I passed,” she said.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said the lack of specificity on how the saved dollars would be used does not bother him. In fact, he said that’s a key reason he’s supporting it.

“We’ve shown the political will here today that we can raise revenue to take care of all of the other issues,” Quezada said.

Worsley said he presumes Gov. Doug Ducey will sign the measure as the governor had made a similar proposal several years earlier, albeit with a fee in the $7 to $8 range.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to correct the bill number. 

Lawmakers to explore how to get per diem increase after veto

Law act with red veto stamp. President veto

Stunned by the governor’s veto, some lawmakers already are exploring how – and when – they can finally get an increase in their living allowances.

And one question is whether rural legislators, who the governor said are clearly entitled to more, should throw their more numerous Phoenix area counterparts over the side.

“There’s some of our members that were really counting on that to help them get through the cost of serving,” said Senate President Karen Fann.

“Expenses have just gotten so ridiculously high just trying to find a place to live temporarily,” the Prescott Republican told Capitol Media Services. That includes not just the session which runs from January into at least April, and sometimes longer, but the times that lawmakers need to be at the Capitol the rest of the year for hearings and meetings.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

That, in turn, means finding housing in the Phoenix area that’s available year round.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who sponsored the House version of the increase that Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed on Friday, said this isn’t about lawmakers lining their pockets.

“We have members that are living in motor homes in not-very-nice locations,” he said. “And it’s all because of inflation,” pointing out the allowance of $60 a day for rural lawmakers and $35 for Maricopa County legislators has not been adjusted since 1984.

Both want to make another run at the issue when the Legislature reconvenes in January. But it’s the form that will take that remains under debate.

The legislation Ducey vetoed Friday would have pegged the allowance for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County at what the U.S. General Services Administration allows for travel to Phoenix. That figure is now $185 a day.

It also would have kept the current practice of paying for seven days a week, regardless of how many days the Legislature is in session, under the premise that rural lawmakers need to rent or buy a second residence.

Ducey apparently had no problem with more cash for non-Maricopa County lawmakers, saying there is “a strong case to be made for ensuring we are appropriately recognizing what is required for them to be here at the state Capitol in Phoenix during session.”

But what it also would have done is given a half allowance of $92.50 a day, seven days a week to Maricopa County lawmakers. And, unable to veto just part of the measure, the governor rejected the whole plan.

“Next year, we’ll try something different,” said Fann. But she isn’t ready to say that the new version should be narrowed to only those who don’t live in Maricopa County.

But the idea of jettisoning an allowance hike for urban lawmakers to get Ducey’s signature on a bill definitely annoyed Campbell.

“I don’t like the divide-and-conquer thing,” he said. “That’s not good politics.”

What it also may not be is a winning strategy.

There are 53 lawmakers that live in Maricopa County versus 27 who come to the Capitol from the other 14 counties. That means it will take at least some of their votes for rural lawmakers to get the allowance boost they say they need.

At least part of the impetus for the increase is that lawmakers are paid $24,000 a year. That’s a figure over which they have no control, as it is up to a special commission to make recommendations and up to voters to approve.

The last pay hike was in 1998.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, who voted for the allowance increase, said that figure should be $36,000 a year. But that was specifically rejected by voters in prior years, as was a scaled-back proposal for $30,000.

“In California, they get over $100,000 a year, plus automobiles, plus, plus, plus,” Lawrence complained, in addition to $192 a day in per diem. “So, yeah, I believe we deserve more money because it’s an all-year job.”

Campbell said the lack of what he believes is proper compensation rankles some of his colleagues.

“It just shows us they don’t think much about us, they don’t consider the needs that we have,” he said. “And, the truth of it is, nobody’s looking out for us except ourselves.”

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she doubts voters will approve a higher salary “as long as we continue to act the way we do.” She said there were days in the just-completed session where the Republican majority, missing one or two key members whose votes they needed, would let the whole day go by without voting on matters.

That still leaves the question of whether proponents of a higher allowance should try again next year with a measure to aid just the out-county lawmakers.

“I would be perfectly OK with that,” said Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who supported the now-vetoed plan. Farnsworth said he actually would have preferred that be the proposal “but that’s not what the bill was.”

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, opposed the allowance increase, calling the action at the end of the session “poor timing.”

But Grantham said lawmakers should not be in any rush to ignore the needs of Maricopa County legislators like himself. He said even they have expenses that can exceed $35 a day, though he said that perhaps the $92.50 was not the right number.

And Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who would benefit from an increase to non-Maricopa County lawmakers, said he sees no reason not to provide some financial relief to his Maricopa County counterparts.

“There is some expense to meals,” he said, whether the lawmaker is living in town year round or has an apartment here for the session. What may need to be debated, said Friese, is what is a proper figure for in-county lawmakers.

Friese said he doesn’t necessarily see the governor’s veto as an outright rejection of more money for Maricopa lawmakers.

He pointed out that Ducey also expressed some unhappiness that the increase would have taken effect this year, benefiting the lawmakers who voted for it and whose terms run through 2020. Friese said an increase with a delayed effective date – not until 2021 – may be more palatable.

Fernandez, too, said she believes there needs to be some consideration for costs incurred by Maricopa County lawmakers.

But Fernandez also voted against the increase, not over the beliefs of the merits but the timing.

“For it to come at the 11th hour doesn’t look good,” she said.

LD1 incumbents say they have political targets are on their backs

Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell
Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he wasn’t planning to seek re-election to the House in Legislative District 1 after the 2018 session.

Campbell’s seatmate, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said he also debated coming back for a second term.

At 70 and 76, respectively, neither Stringer nor Campbell are looking to make a career in politics, they said.

But both said they couldn’t give up the seats they had fought so hard to win so easily.

Campbell unsuccessfully ran as a clean elections candidate for the House in 2010.

In 2014, he ran against incumbent Linda Gray, an establishment candidate who had served in the Legislature for 16 years. After a tough primary battle, Campbell managed to defeat her by 2,800 votes.

In 2016, Stringer ran against establishment candidate Chip Davis, a multi-term Yavapai County Supervisor. On election night, Stringer was ahead by just 60 votes. He increased his lead to 750, defeating Davis.

This year, the pair, who are running on a slate together, face a primary challenger. Jodi Rooney, a political newcomer who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Prescott Valley Town Council in 2017, is also seeking the Republican nomination in LD1.

Campbell said the establishment camp in Yavapai County has made it difficult for outsiders to play a larger political role in the county, but he and Stringer are trying to end that pattern. He said the establishment would do anything to end their efforts and unseat either of them, including running a third candidate, like Rooney.

And that’s something that doesn’t sit well with him.

“They would like us to be good little Republicans and do what they say, but we just don’t feel that way. They didn’t help us get elected and they didn’t help us stay in office and they’ll go all out to get us out of here,” Campbell said. “I worked too hard to get elected and I decided I’m not going to give up so easily.”

While Rooney said no one put her up to run for the House in LD1, she does boast the support of several known political figures in Yavapai County.

Rooney has been endorsed by Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin, who represented LD1 in the House from 2006 to 2014, former Senate President Steve Pierce, and other top municipal and county officials in the district. The Arizona Association of Realtors, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce have also endorsed Rooney.

Campbell said he’s unfazed by their support of the competition.

He described Rooney as “an unknown quantity,” and said both he and Stringer can run on their record and accomplishments during their time at the Capitol.

“I could totally be wrong, but I don’t see her as a viable candidate to unseat either myself or Representative Stringer. Nobody knows much about her, how she got in the race, or who is supporting her,” he said.

He said this past session, he and Stringer managed to get funding for the Mayer Unified School District, which was financially affected by the exodus of dozens of students whose families moved out of town after natural disasters last year destroyed low-income housing.

They also managed to secure an additional $1 million for the families of the 19 firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013, he said.

“There’s saddle horses and there’s work horses and I would consider both of us work horses,” Campbell said. “We work hard for this county. Ms. Rooney has got to get out and shake 10,000 hands and she has to show people she can get things done. We’ve already shown that.”

Campbell said he’s confident he and Stringer will get re-elected, despite a lack of support from the establishment in Yavapai County.

He said he also doesn’t think racial statements Stringer made about immigration at the Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum last month will have any effect on Stringer’s campaign.

Stringer came under fire after a 51-second snippet of his speech where he said immigration is an “existential threat” to the United States surfaced on social media. He has since said his comments were misconstrued, and he called the video a “Democrat hit piece.”

Stringer told the Arizona Capitol Times that people who were offended by his comments likely weren’t going to vote for him in the first place. He said his supporters know that he was just stating facts and that he didn’t say anything that was inherently racist.

“These kind of slurs and name calling, calling people racist and bigots, have been used so frequently now, used against the president, that it has desensitized a lot of people. It’s just dirty politics and people take it for what it is,” Stringer said.

Rooney, who previously worked at the Arizona Department of Transportation, said she wouldn’t have run if she didn’t think she could unseat either Campbell or Stringer. She said though she is new to the political scene, she’s committed to the GOP’s platform, and hopes to push for economic development, responsible investment in education and will champion the proposed Interstate 17 transportation corridor, if elected.

“That’s one of the first things you ask yourself, ‘Can you unseat one of the incumbents.’ Absolutely I think I can,” she said. “Our team is well organized and we’re moving forward and we do look to take one of the seats.”

Phil Goode, first vice chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said while Campbell’s position as an incumbent and his track record are strong, the controversy surrounding Stringer’s comments have made the race competitive where before it didn’t appear to be.

But whether the controversy has any significant effect on Stringer’s re-election chances or gives a boost to Rooney’s campaign remains to be seen, Goode said.

Seatmate Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, told the Arizona Capitol Times that Rooney was a strong candidate who had a decent chance of taking one of the House seats, even before Stringer’s comments surfaced. But she said Stringer’s remarks had “boosted her numbers up exponentially.”

Goode said that’s likely not the case.

He said Stringer’s comments have energized the Tea Party segment of the GOP party in Yavapai County – Stringer’s voting base, and that has led voters to dump funding into Stringer’s campaign coffers.

“I think he’ll be OK,” he said.

Legislation to immunize well owners becomes law

water well (Deposit Photos)
water well (Deposit Photos)

A new law signed Thursday by Gov. Doug Ducey is designed to provide legal protections to those who drill wells into underground streams they are not legally entitled to tap.

The measure repeals existing laws that make it a crime when a well owner “uses water to which another is entitled.” That law, until now, has subjected violators to up to four months in jail and a $750 fine.

Now, that criminal penalty will be available only when someone knew they were breaking the law.

But that exception bothered several lawmakers.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he has no problem immunizing those who already have put wells into the ground, only to find out that they have dipped into a subsurface flow that doesn’t belong to them.

Campbell, however, said he wanted a provision included in the legislation to tell those who have yet to drill a well that they would be subject to criminal penalties if they ended up tapping into someone else’s water. It was not included.

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said she fears the new law will create a loophole for the unscrupulous.

She pointed out that it would be a defense to criminal charges that the well was drilled without knowledge that it was actually taking water from a subsurface flow.

“That would make it very easy for certain groups or organizations or people to do something unethically and get away with it,” Blanc said, by claiming “I didn’t know this was against the law.”

And Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said the law “undercuts private property rights.”

The legislation was pushed by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. He argued that those who drill wells don’t – and can’t – know whether they’ve actually tapped into a subsurface flow. And that water, like surface water, is allocated not based on who owns the land but on different laws about who has the right to use it.

Bowers said the state is still trying to determine who has the rights to certain surface and subsurface waters.

He said some of the water rights at issue actually could turn out to belong to tribes. Bowers said there’s no reason to subject well drillers to criminal liability if it turns out that what they’re pumping “contains one molecule of subflow.”

That includes Bowers himself who said he drilled a new well two years ago.

“We don’t know where that water comes from,” he testified during hearings earlier this year. “It could be coming from the river, being forced up by capillary action.”

But Bowers said there are “tens of thousands of people” who face similar risk, especially in the Verde Valley and the San Pedro watershed.

Legislature passes opioids package

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

State lawmakers voted late Thursday to adopt changes in laws on opioids despite what some said are flaws and concerns by others that the plan won’t do much of anything to deal with the drug abuse epidemic.

The unanimous approval came just hours after the Republicans who control both the House and Senate picked apart the package that Gov. Doug Ducey presented to them Monday and asked that they give final approval in three days.

It wasn’t just the rush to make massive changes in Arizona law that concerned a few lawmakers who pointed out that many of the key provisions do not even take effect until next year. The bigger fear is that some of what’s in the package has not been well thought out.

One complaint deals with a provision designed to ensure that doctors do not provide larger doses than appropriate.

It absolutely prohibits giving patients more than 90 “morphine milligram equivalents” a day unless they fall into certain excepted categories like cancer patients and those in hospice. Doctors can prescribe such doses in other cases — but only if they first consult a board-certified pain management specialist.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said that raises all sorts of concerns, ranging from who picks up the cost of the consult for patients without health insurance to how long it might take to get that second opinion, especially if the specialist actually wants to see the patient.

“It’s probably going to be a long wait,” said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix.

The bigger question, Allen said, is having the state looking over the shoulder of medical professionals.

“Here’s a doctor who’s practiced for years, knows that patient, and now they have to get a second opinion,” she said.

“It’s kind of an insult to them,” Allen continued. “So I don’t like that at all.”

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, worried over a provision that will require all prescriptions for opioids to be done electronically. That is designed to cut down on forged paper prescriptions.

But Gray questioned whether that’s technically feasible, particularly for rural doctors.

“Some of this software isn’t even developed yet,” he said. Gray said it took the state of New York two years to get a similar system in place.

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, called the requirement an “unfunded mandate, saying that setting up the system could cost doctors up to $20,000.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said he had a problem with the concept of imposing an entirely new regulatory scheme on all doctors. Smith said he believes there are just a small number of “bad doctors” who are causing the problem by overprescribing highly addictive opioids.

“If you’re going to overburden the doctors you’re still not going to solve the problem,” he said.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, agreed, saying the state is pushing ahead with new regulations that don’t address the underlying reasons of why people abuse drugs.

“Whenever government solves problems it doesn’t seem to work out too well,” he said. “I hope we’re realizing there are some things government can’t solve.”

That question of regulation also got the attention of Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who openly wondered whether all the new laws and restrictions might have an unintended effect.

“I don’t want to restrict the ability of good doctors to do their job and force that patient (who needs painkillers) to black tar heroin,” he said.

Borrelli also said the bill is lacking a crucial provision: a state-run needle exchange program to keep addicts from sharing needles and possibly spreading HIV, “and then we have another epidemic.”

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Campbell, worried about provisions which require veterinarians to report to police if they believe clients are seeking opiates for themselves instead of their pets. That same section then allows police to demand reports, all, Campbell said, without a court order.

“This is what we call a fishing expedition,” he said.

All the concerns — and the unanswered questions — also go to the question of why Ducey called a special session, insisting that lawmakers go from their first real look at the bill on Monday and final approval by the end of the day Thursday. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, pointed out that many of the key provisions do not even take effect until next year.

“If we’re not implementing this until 2019 I don’t know why we’re voting on this this afternoon,” he said. Even Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, conceded the risks of such rapid action.

“Sometimes when we rush through legislation there are consequences,” she said.

Not everyone saw the issue that way.

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said there is evidence of a real crisis, citing figures showing there has been a 74 percent increase in opioid deaths since he became a lawmaker in 2013.

“It’s highly addictive and it’s killing people,” he told colleagues. “I don’t know why we’re suddenly getting weak knees.”

And Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she has no problem with new state laws, saying that whatever kind of self-regulation that is supposed to be going on in the medical community isn’t working, “forcing the government to step in and save some lives.”

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, did not dispute any of the concerns or contentions of his fellow Republicans. But he urged lawmakers to adopt the plan now, saying any flaws can be fixed next year.

Even Smith, despite his concerns, said he’s willing to push this through.

“I think it’s important to make a statement,” he said.

Mitchell primary loss opens door for Bowers’ run for speaker

Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, said requiring Arizona Department of Corrections officers to be U.S. citizens would help ease unemployment in his district, which stretches to Yuma. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Juan Magaña)
Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, said requiring Arizona Department of Corrections officers to be U.S. citizens would help ease unemployment in his district, which stretches to Yuma. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Juan Magaña)

A surprise loss in Legislative District 13 upended the speaker’s race in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Rep. Darin Mitchell will not be returning to the Legislature after losing in the August 28 GOP primary for the two House seats in LD13.

Rep. Tim Dunn and Joanne Osborne defeated the Goodyear Republican and his running mate Trey Terry and now move on to the November 6 general election.

Mitchell was one of two members in the running for speaker of the House and the loss leaves the chamber’s top position wide open for Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, if Bowers is re-elected.

But the loss has also opened the way for other House members to jump into the speaker’s race.

Bowers said Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, a member of the most-conservative Liberty Caucus, which rallied around Mitchell, have expressed interest in running for speaker. Finchem had previously announced he would seek the majority leader position after the 2018 elections.

In a text to the Arizona Capitol Times, Townsend said she was “exploring a run for speaker,” now that Mitchell was not advancing to the general election.

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, another member of the Liberty Caucus, said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, could also jump into the race.

But their candidacies are unlikely to pose a threat to Bowers, who announced his intention to run for the speakership late last year and has been campaigning for that leadership position ever since.

Bowers would not comment on whether it is too late for another candidate to jump into the race, but he said he feels confident about the support he has drummed up over the past couple of months.

“They’ll do what they think they need to do, but I feel very good about our position,” he said. “Now it’s time to double down and try to tie this up.”

Bowers said Mitchell has been a strong advocate for the Liberty Caucus and he will now work to gain the caucus’ support.

Mitchell’s loss in the primary was one of two surprises in the House, where incumbents were defeated by relative newcomers on the political scene.

While it is difficult to unseat an incumbent, there was a fairly aggressive opposition campaign being run against Mitchell this election cycle because of his interest in the speakership, said political consultant Chuck Coughlin.

Coughlin said it’s not unprecedented for a candidate who is running for leadership to lose their bid for re-election.

Political action committees and independent expenditure groups spent heavily in the race, pouring money into Dunn and Osborne’s campaign.

Responsible Leadership for AZ PAC, which is funded by the Arizona Association of Realtors, spent heavily against Mitchell, who is a Realtor himself. Mitchell’s consultant, Chris Baker, said the PAC’s spending was intended to influence the speaker’s race in Bowers’ favor.

The group launched ads shortly before the primary election describing Mitchell as one of several “very concerning candidates” in LD13, lumping him together with Terry and ousted lawmaker Don Shooter, who failed in his bid to return to the Legislature.

The ad also accused Mitchell of unpaid debts and a state income tax lien, and it drummed up an ethics complaint filed against him by House Democrats in 2016. It also hit Mitchell for supporting and sponsoring legislation that the Realtors opposed.

Neither Mitchell nor Baker immediately returned a request for comment.

Panel okays proposal for state lawmakers to tap U.S. Senate nominees

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)

Claiming they’re being ignored by John McCain and Jeff Flake, Republican state legislators took the first steps Tuesday to allowing them — and not the voters — to choose who gets to run for the U.S. Senate.

On a 6-3 party-line vote, members of the House Committee on Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy approved a a measure which would give lawmakers the power to nominate Senate candidates. Legislators from each political party would choose two nominees for each open seat, with the four names going on the general election ballot.

HCR 2022 now goes to the full House. If it gets approved there and by the Senate, the change would have to be ratified by voters in November.

In essence, the proposal would partly return Arizona to the way things were prior to 1913 when U.S. senators were chosen outright by the legislatures of each state, with no popular vote at all.

The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution overruled that, providing for direct election of senators in the same way voters get to choose members of the House of Representatives. But Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said nothing in that amendment requires a popular vote to determine who gets to be on that general election ballot.

Grantham argued that his measure would bring Arizona back closer to the original intent of the Founding Fathers who wanted the Senate to be not only a check on the popularly elected House but also to be responsive to the states and their lawmakers.

That argument hit a responsive chord with Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott.

“Does anybody think that Sen. Flake and Sen. McCain pay any attention to the Legislature of this state?” he asked.

“I think not,” Campbell continued. “They don’t talk to us, they don’t consult us, we’re irrelevant to them.”

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, agreed that the state’s U.S. senators pretty much ignore state lawmakers.

“I’ve called a number of times to try and get help,” he said.

“I don’t even get a secretary,” Finchem explained. “I get a voicemail that says, ‘We are currently not taking any more messages.’ ”

But that’s not the only problem Finchem has with the current method of choosing senators.

“The purpose of the Senate and the way it was originally constructed was to exempt it from the passions and the emotions of the people,” he said.

“What we have now is 100 panderers,” Finchem said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve got trillions of debt.”

Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said one problem with what HCR 2022 proposes is that it limits nominations to political parties that have representation in the Legislature. That, he said, effectively takes away the voice of the one third of Arizonans who are politically unaffiliated but, under current law, allowed to vote in the Republican or Democrat primaries.

Proposed gas tax tax hike faces stern opposition

Red and rusty gas can that says Gasoline on it, Isolated on White Background.
Red and rusty gas can that says Gasoline on it, Isolated on White Background.

Saying Arizona roads are crumbling due to neglect, a Prescott lawmaker is pushing a plan to eventually more than double the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax.

The legislation by Republican Rep. Noel Campbell would hike the levy most motorists pay in three steps, reaching 43 cents a gallon by the middle of 2021. And HB 2536 would automatically adjust it annually to reflect inflation.

But Campell is not just hoping to raise an additional $1 billion from those who use gasoline-powered vehicles. He also wants to hike the levy on diesel fuel and impose new taxes on natural gas and propane based on their equivalent energy value with gasoline.

Nor is he letting the drivers of hybrids and electric vehicles off the hook.

His measure would add a levy of $80 a year to the registration fees of vehicles driven by a combination of electricity and other fuels. And the owners of all electric vehicles would pay $198 a year more.

Campbell said that’s based on what would be the taxes that would be raised if motorists who drive an average of 12,000 miles a year were buying gasoline.

He is hoping to get the bill a hearing in the House Transportation Committee he chairs this coming week.

The way Campbell sees it, the problem is a combination of more fuel efficient vehicles and inflation.

He said the number of cars and trucks using Arizona roads continues to increase each year. But since they are more efficient, they’re buying less gasoline.

How bad is the situation? Figures from the state Department of Transportation report the number of gallons of fuel sold between 2005 and 2015 was virtually unchanged, though there has been an uptick since then as drivers, perhaps spurred by affordable gasoline prices, switch to larger vehicles.

By contrast, there were 5.9 million vehicles registered in Arizona in 2005. There are now 8.5 million.

Then there’s the fact that the 18-cent-a-gallon levy hasn’t been changed since 1991 when 18 cents was worth more.

Campbell has another way of looking at it.

In 1992 gasoline was selling nationwide for about $1.10 a gallon. So the tax made up close to 17 percent of the cost.

Now, with gasoline recently in the $2.60-a-gallon range, state taxes make up less than 7.5 percent of the total paid.

Campbell cited ADOT figures that the state is generating enough cash solely to adequately maintain just 47 percent of the roads for which it is responsible. And that doesn’t deal with what he said are future needs to build new freeways and widen existing roads.

The problem, he said, is not convincing people of the need for more dollars.

Campbell said he has the support of the trucking industry, the folks who are purchasing large quantities of fuel. He said they understand the dollars lost due to delays when their vehicles are tied up in traffic.

It’s lining up the votes of two-thirds of both the House and Senate and the consent of Gov. Doug Ducey who has been on record as saying he would not support any tax hike of any kind.

“It’s a political issue,” Campbell said.

“It would be so much easier if the governor would support what I’m trying to do,” he said, saying that he voted for Ducey. “But policy-wise I differ with him because this is an urgent need.”

All that presumes that a bill would even get to the governor.

Voters in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties have approved their own sales tax hikes to pay for their own transportation needs, though the future of a Pinal levy remains unclear following a judge’s ruling that it was crafted in an illegal manner.

But Campbell thinks he can still get urban lawmakers to approve the plan.

He figures the additional taxes would generate close to $1 billion a year, about three-fourths of that from higher gasoline taxes and the balance from the taxes on other fuels and electric-powered cars. More to the point, he said the current distribution formula would remain the same.

“In that formula, Maricopa and Pima county will get about 60 percent of the revenue,” he said.

There’s also the fact that Campbell figures about 15 percent of the fuel sold in Arizona is bought by people just driving through from one state to another.

And there’s something else.

Campbell’s bill is being pushed by the Arizona chapter of the Associated General Contractors. These are the firms that make their money in heavy-duty construction, including new roads.

So far, though, the record shows Campbell has an uphill fight.

Campbell tried two years ago for a 10-cent-a-gallon increase. But that bill faltered.

“I know it’s an uphill fight,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m not going to sit here as Transportation (Committee) chairman and do nothing while I see needs of transportation infrastructure falling apart.”

About the only thing Campbell did manage to push through was a bill allowing the Department of Transportation to boost vehicle registration fees to an amount equivalent to fund the Highway Patrol. That, in turn, freed up gasoline tax dollars that were being used to finance the agency.

Campbell told colleagues at the time that the levy would be about $18 a year. But by the time it was computed by ADOT, it hit $32 a vehicle. And lawmakers hit the roof, voting in committee earlier this month to scrap the fee and the $185 million it raised.

That measure faces an uncertain future as Ducey has promised to veto any repeal.

Republicans accuse Democrats of political theater over gun legislation

Students from various schools in Arizona sit in the gallery of the state House of Representatives. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Students from various schools in Arizona sit in the gallery of the state House of Representatives on March 14, 2018. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Prescott Republican lawmaker lashed out at Democrats Thursday, accusing them of being more interested in political “theater” than solving the question of gun violence in schools.

And that brought a sharp retort from the Democrats.

Rep. Noel Campbell said all lawmakers are upset about the shootings at Majory Stoneman High School in Florida, and he acknowledged the anger and frustration of students who walked out of their classrooms a day earlier on the one-month anniversary of that event.

“But I have a feeling some of you down here just want to be seen and not do anything,” Campbell said in his floor speech, citing not only the presence of students in the gallery on March 14 but also Democrats taking close to an hour to introduce the students by name and call attention to them and their demands for changes in state gun laws.

That, Campbell said, is not the way “to get things done.”

“It hardens positions,” he said, with the “theater” of Wednesday resulting in many Republicans choosing to leave the floor rather than sit through the introduction of individual students and the Democrat floor speeches.

“You drove us out of here,” Campbell said, saying Democrats are not interested in working with Republicans.

“You want to make an example of us. You want to embarrass us,” he said. “Well, see how effective that is.”

Campbell said if Democrats are interested in legislative solutions, they should forego these kinds of public spectacles and instead work with Republicans behind closed doors.

But Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said that call rings hollow.

“We are not given the opportunity,” she responded.

Gonzales pointed out that Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, introduced several measures this year he says would address the issue of gun violence. They include allowing judges to order the emergency removal of weapons from homes of those who are considered a danger and closing the “gun show loophole” that allows weapons to be transferred without checking whether the buyer is legally allowed to own a weapon.

None of them got even a committee hearing.

She also pointed out that, when Friese used a procedural maneuver to bring the measure on background checks directly to the floor so it could be voted, it was defeated in the Republican-controlled House on a party-line vote.

And that, Gonzales said, leaves Democrats with the one tool they have: floor speeches.

“We do not grandstand just to grandstand,” she said. “We are here to make a difference, just like you are, Rep. Campbell.”

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, echoed the sentiment.

“We are not afforded the same opportunities as you are,” she said. And Fernandez said there’s a good reason there were students at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“When they come and sit in the gallery they expect us to express their views,” she said, reminding lawmakers that each of them got elected because of the constituents. “Those kids wanted their voices to be heard.”

But Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, had a different take on what happened Wednesday.

“In my view, I think a lot of those students were played,” he said.

Kern said he is sure the students who showed up were real in their emotions.

“I’m sure they want to go to safe schools,” he said. But Kern questioned the commitment of Democrats to that issue.

He said during the time Barack Obama was president, there were 14 mass shootings. At the same time, Kern said, the Democrats had control of both the U.S. House and Senate.

“If they were so concerned about guns at that time, they could have pushed through gun legislation the same way that they pushed through Obamacare,” he said.

Wednesday’s events at the Capitol, which culminated in a two-hour sit-in at the office of Gov. Doug Ducey when he did not come out to meet with the students, are unlikely to be the last word. A “National Day of Action” is set for March 24.

Ducey has said he is meeting with various interests and has promised to come up with his own legislative proposal, possibly as early as next week.

The governor has hinted that could include something similar to Friese’s bill on emergency seizure of weapons. But he has been openly cool to requiring background checks any time a weapon is bought and sold.

Senate calls it quits, leaves House to decide what’s next

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point May 8 during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

The Senate notified the House early Friday afternoon that it had ended its legislative work, ending the session and killing hundreds of bills. The lower chamber has yet to accede to the request, leaving senators in an indefinite recess.

Senators sat in an unusually empty chamber, surrounded by a smaller-than-usual crew of mask-wearing staff and a larger-than-usual group of reporters. There were no lobbyists, no traditional ice cream in the members’ lounge, no mad dashes between buildings to rush last-minute bills, just an ultimately vain attempt by a small cadre of Republicans to forestall the inevitable motion to recess.

And instead of leaving in triumph, the 24 senators who voted for adjourning sine die walked into a parking lot full of protesters, who jeered and shouted into the senators’ car windows as they slowly pulled out. 

But it also isn’t really the end. Because the state constitution and legislative rules don’t permit either chamber to adjourn for more than three days without the other, the Senate now stands at recess. Lawmakers will have to come back once more to adjourn, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“We’re sending a message to the House,” Fann said. “We can’t keep going round and round and round.”

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks during May 7 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks May 8 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

Fann said the lawmakers in the lower chamber need more time to learn how government works and come to a consensus. When the House does, she said, the Senate will be there ready to accept a sine die motion or pass two or three COVID-19-related bills. 

“They need more time over there to be able to come to a consensus, which we have tried to do for the last four or five weeks,” she said. “This is our way of saying, ‘We still want to work with you, but we are putting the ball in your court.’”

House leadership, for the most, support ending the session, but not if it means working with Democrats. Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, promised earlier this week to bring the chamber back into session Friday at 1 p.m. But late Thursday,  after a bruising Zoom call with his colleagues, Bowers went back on the plan, explaining in a statement that members “of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona. “

On that call, many members expressed frustration with both executive and legislative leadership, insisting that a return to work was the only path forward — in part to keep a check on the Governor, who some in the caucus want to override through a concurrent resolution that would terminate the statewide declaration of emergency. 

On one hand, they say that the stay-at-home order has devastated their local economies. On the other, their pushback is personal.

“What’s happened is, by and large, the Legislature feels that the governor has ignored us and never really paid any attention to us, and probably doesn’t respect us very much,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “All of a sudden, our leadership wanted to sine die. The members feel that if we were to sine die, it would make us look like we’re impotent.”

In the Senate, six verbose Republican holdouts caused Friday’s floor session — which Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said he expected would take only a few minutes — to drag on for three hours. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who pushed hard to leave the Legislature at recess to maintain the ability to come back to the floor as needed, said adjourning sends a bad message to the people of Arizona.

He pointed out that lawmakers took heat two years ago, during the Red for Ed movement, when they adjourned normally on a Thursday to come back on a Monday as they normally do, because teachers thought their representatives were skipping town. This is much worse, he said. 

“We shouldn’t shut down our work before the people of Arizona can get back to work,” Mesnard said. 

Sen. Dave Farnsworth, R-Mesa, took it a step further, saying it would be selfish to adjourn sine die and equated  ending the session to deserting the military. 

“How could we even consider walking away?” he asked. “If we were on the battlefield and we walked away, we could be shot for desertion.” 

Farnsworth, and fellow Republican Sen. David Livingston, insisted that the most important thing for Arizona now is to get everyone back to work. The more important thing is staying alive, retorted Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston, 77, is the Senate’s oldest member. She addressed most of her comments to fellow older Arizonans who she described as being in the “special class” of individuals most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19. 

“Please, let’s sine die, let’s stay home, stay healthy,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of social distancing. Let’s keep it up a little longer until we have data we need to make sound decisions that are good for our small businesses, people and economy.”

While every Democratic senator and all Senate employees kept masks on for the entire session, only two Republicans with health backgrounds did: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who heads the health and human services committee, and Sen. Tyler Pace, a Mesa Republican who serves on the committee and owns a medical supply business. Mesnard had a mask on intermittently, Buckeye Republican Sine Kerr had one around her neck, and Sen. Heather Carter, who began practicing physical distancing a week before the rest of the chamber, watched from her office.

If Republican lawmakers can’t even agree to wear masks to the Senate floor for sine die, they definitely can’t resume the session, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Quezada, who has Type 1 Diabetes, tore into his colleagues and the protesters outside, speaking so animatedly that his own mask repeatedly slipped below his nose.

Republicans talked a lot about personal responsibility, he said, but they weren’t demonstrating it. 

“You could have been exposed, and now you’re impacting me,” he said. “That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government, because that lack of personal responsibility is affecting people like me.”

While a bipartisan coalition of senators elected to end the session, Senate GOP leaders insist their work is far from done. Fann plans to begin work Monday on plans for a special session to address COVID-19 issues, and she plans to form task forces after the August primary.

And come October, Fann said, she plans to ask legislative council to redraft bills that stalled during the 2020 session. If she’s still Senate President, she’ll ask committee chairs to hear those bills and finish them during the first two weeks of session. 

And for now, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said, constituents need lawmakers to be helping with unemployment issues and connecting them with government services, not on the floor passing bills.

“We don’t have to be really on the floor to help solve those constituents’ problems. We can be recessed, we can be adjourned, and we still continue to work to protect and help anyone in our district. As far as I’m concerned, the workload that we have since we’ve been recessed has been tremendous.”


  • Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report

Senate passes repeal of car registration fee, showdown with Ducey imminent

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey gestures while giving his state of the state address talking about Arizona's economy, new jobs, and the state revenue Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey gestures while giving his state of the state address talking about Arizona’s economy, new jobs, and the state revenue Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

State lawmakers are picking another fight with Gov. Doug Ducey over taxes and fees.

On a 24-6 margin the Senate voted Monday to repeal a year-old $32-a-vehicle registration fee designed to fund the state Highway Patrol. The measure now goes to the House.

But even if it gets approved there − and there appears to be strong support for that − it faces an uncertain future.

Ducey built his budget on the presumption the state will collect about $185 million a year from the levy. And he has sent warnings that he would veto the measure if and when it reaches his desk.

Press aide Patrick Ptak said Monday the governor’s views have not changed.

But given the level of support there are more than enough votes for an override if lawmakers opt to pursue the issue.

The Senate vote to pursue the repeal despite threats of a veto comes just weeks after Ducey quashed yet another effort by lawmakers to limit the tax bite on Arizonans. That measure would have required a $150 million reduction in individual income tax rates to compensate for an identical additional amount the state will collect due to changes in federal tax laws.

Monday’s vote is a reversal of sorts for lawmakers who approved the fee just a year ago. But Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said lawmakers were promised at the time that the fee would be only about $18 for each vehicle.

But here’s the thing: Lawmakers never set the fee themselves. That would have required a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.

So proponents did an end-run of sorts, crafting the measure in a way to leave the actual levy up to John Halikowski, director of the state Department of Transportation. He was told to set it high enough to cover the cost of the Highway Patrol and have some left over.

But the fallout from that back-door effort came back to haunt lawmakers when ADOT began sending out vehicle registration renewal notices in December, with the fee now nearly twice as high as lawmakers were promised.

“I think $32 is too high,” Brophy McGee said Monday in voting to repeal it.

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, who also supported repeal, said one problem with the fee is that it amounts to a sharp increase in what many owners have to pay to register their vehicles.

Registration fees are based on the value of the vehicle, a figure that drops every year. That means that, at a certain point, those who hang onto their wheels pay as little as $10 a year.

What that also means, Peshlakai told colleagues, is that costs have quadrupled for some of her constituents.

And then there’s the question of who benefits.

The purpose of funding the Highway Patrol out of the new fee was to free up gasoline tax revenues that now help finance the agency. That, in turn, was supposed to make more money available for road construction and repair.

Peshlakai said she’s not convinced that helps those in rural areas.

“Every time the state adds fees and taxes and nickel-and-dimes us, especially for highways, then the benefits are kept down here in the Valley or in the urban area,” she said.

Sen. Andrea Dallesandro, D-Green Valley, acknowledged that $32 fee set by ADOT is far more than what lawmakers were told in voting for the measure last year. And she agreed with Peshlakai that the levy is regressive, with people who own expensive luxury vehicles paying the same as those with much older cars.

But Dallesandro said she voted for the bill last year as a method of bringing more dollars into state coffers for critical needs including public education. And on Monday she was unwilling to support outright repeal, with no prospect of replacing those dollars.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, also voted against repeal based on the needed revenues.

“We look at our forests, our infrastructure, our public education system, a lot of things that government should be taking care of,” she told colleagues. “But if we remove this fee … we will be $185 million negative on the general fund.”

Anyway, Otondo said, lawmakers need to put that $32 fee into perspective, especially with the idea that using it to fund the Highway Patrol would mean more money for roads.

“I can hit a pothole and that’s going to cost me more than $32 to fix it,” she said, saying some roads are “unsafe” because of the gas tax revenues that have been siphoned off for other priorities.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, who voted against the fee last year, did a bit of “I told you so” with her colleagues in choosing to let the head of ADOT set amount to avoid the requirement for a two-thirds vote, accepting the verbal promise of $18, and now appearing surprised at it coming back at $32.

One option to replace the revenues from the $32 fee would be to reduce the fee to $18 − the amount promised − and then make up the difference with higher gasoline taxes.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has been proposing a gas-tax hike for years, pointing out the current 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been changed since 1991. But he has yet to get approval from his colleagues for the plan. And Ducey has been steadfast in his opposition to any tax hike while claiming the $32 is a fee.

Senate plans to start budget talks around Labor Day


Republicans in the state Senate — and possibly the House — plan to start drafting next year’s budget shortly after Labor Day and have a proposal ready by the end of the year, Senate President Karen Fann told the Arizona Capitol Times Wednesday.

It’s a departure from recent history, in which the governor has presented his budget proposal during the State of the State address in January and legislators take weeks or months to come up with their own spending plan, building on the governor’s pitch and committee hearings. Fann, R-Prescott, said she’s had several senators ask to return to an older approach in which lawmakers come up with their own budget proposal at the same time as the governor.

“We are going to call a caucus meeting together with our Republican caucus Senate members and we are going to start working on our budget this fall,” Fann said. “We hope to have something pretty well put together by beginning of session that we will be able to present to the governor.”

Fann said she believed the House Republican Caucus would do the same. House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Rep. Regina Cobb, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, were both unavailable for comment.

Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope said he was not aware of any plan to have a budget ready before the new year, but “it would be a laudable goal.”

“Then we’d actually get to know upfront from straggler members what they’re interested in rather than waiting until the final week of session,” said Shope, R-Coolidge. “Everybody would be on the same page from the very beginning.”

And he noted it wouldn’t be unusual, considering the Ninth Floor puts together the executive budget proposal within the first week of session. If the Legislature can get a head-start on laying out lawmakers’ priorities, too, perhaps another 134-day session can be avoided in 2020.

“We need to make sure that we get a budget done earlier this next year than we did this year,” Fann said. “We should not be going into June 1 again.”

Her seatmate, Rep. Noel Campbell, said that it was critical that legislators present Ducey with a budget before the governor sets the terms of debate in his State of the State address.

Attorney Dan Barr, who advocates for open government, said a budget coming from the Legislature, not the governor, is a good start.

“The way the system is supposed to work, it’s supposed to not come from the governor’s office down but it’s supposed to come from the legislature up to the governor, having committee meetings on various things about the budget and having input going that way,” he said.

But he said having decisions made by Republican caucus members ahead of time doesn’t lead to good government. Political caucuses aren’t bound to the same open meetings laws as legislative committees and other government bodies.

“I think it’s a process where not only the public is cheated out but a lot of elected officials are,” Barr said. “Democracy is a messy process and this is trying to shortchange that.

Fann said preparing a legislative budget before the next session starts won’t prevent public input, because lawmakers will still have to hold committee hearings.

“This is no different than the governor putting his budget together when he presents it the first week of January,” Fann said. “He puts it together and we will put together our thoughts and ideas, but obviously a budget is a work in progress so from the time that we present ours to him and he presents his, obviously there will be six to eight weeks of us having hearings and budget discussions.”

Drafting a budget during the fall with only Republicans also explicitly leaves out Democrats, in a dramatic shift from how Fann promised to approach this session. This year, she repeated that she wanted a bipartisan budget deal right up until voting was underway on this year’s budget bills.

She said she plans on talking individually with Democrats again about their top priorities, but she won’t include those priorities in the initial budget because she was burned by Democrats not supporting the budget this year. It passed along party lines in both the House and the Senate.

“After what we saw this year in the last part of the session, I am reluctant to put any of their asks in right up front,” Fann said. “ It didn’t do me any good to fight for them this year.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat who frequently criticized what he described as empty promises of bipartisanship, said he understood that Fann was upset that Democrats didn’t vote for the budget this year. He said he wasn’t surprised that Fann would decide to draft a budget without Democratic input.

“She believed that she did all that she could or should have done to involve us, and now she’s upset that we weren’t grateful for that and didn’t vote for her budget,” Quezada said. “It appears now that they’re going to just abandon that whole approach and go back to doing it on their own.”

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, meanwhile, said Fann’s choice to work on a budget before session is a “throwback” to how the Legislature used to work. When he was first elected to the House in 2002, the Legislature released its budget proposal at the same time as the governor’s, he said.

“It makes some sense to do that, especially as our folks on the other side say there’s a recession coming,” Bradley said. “They have to do some planning for what they’re thinking is going to happen. I would applaud them for trying to get ahead of the curve there, having given up most of the revenue.”

Reporters Katie Campbell and Ben Giles contributed to this story


Stringer survives controversy

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions in June about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Rep. David Stringer emerged unscathed following controversy over comments he made about race and immigration earlier this summer.

Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell, both of Prescott, defeated political newcomer Jodi Rooney in the GOP primary for the two House seats in Legislative District 1.

Stringer ran for re-election despite calls for his resignation from state party leaders after he told a GOP gathering in June that there are “not enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools, a comment widely condemned as racist, but one Stringer insists was taken out of context.

In a 51-second snippet of his speech, which Tempe City Councilman David Schapira, a Democrat running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, posted on Twitter, Stringer says immigration is “politically destabilizing” and “presents an existential threat” to the country.

Stringer said his intent wasn’t to make a racially charged statement but was an attempt at having an honest discussion about race. And while he apologized to anyone he offended with his comments, he said pointing out that 60 percent of students in Arizona’s public schools are children of color is “not a racist comment, it’s a statement of fact.”

After his comments emerged, Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines and Gov. Doug Ducey called for Stringer to resign, which did not occur.

Instead, hoping to put the controversy behind him, Stringer met with a group of African-Americans to tell them he is working on issues of interest to their community and his comments about immigration and assimilation were misconstrued or misunderstood.

But he didn’t exactly apologize for anything he said, blaming the dust-up on a “Democrat hit piece” that excerpted 51 seconds of a 17-minute speech he gave in which he also spoke about criminal justice, education and touched on his accomplishments during the 2018 session.

And since the 51-second snippet made the rounds on social media, Stringer has doubled down on his remarks in a 60-second radio spot posted to his Facebook page on Aug. 14.

The controversy, however, appears to have had little impact on the race in what is a considered a safe Republican district.

Phil Goode, first vice chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said Stringer’s comments have instead energized the Tea Party segment of the GOP party in Yavapai County, Stringer’s voting base.

Campbell and Stringer will will face off against Democrats Ed Gogek and Jan Manolis in the Nov. 6 general election.

The district, which includes the majority of Yavapai County, Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, and parts of northern Maricopa County, is heavily conservative. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in LD1 by nearly 45,900 voters.

LD1 House By The Numbers

62,949 votes cast


Noel Campbell 43 percent

David Stringer 37 percent

Jodi Rooney 21 percent


Ed Gogek 42 Percent

Jan Manolis 58 Percent

Time for change in vacation rental law, Ducey says


Acknowledging it hasn’t quite worked as promoted, Gov. Doug Ducey wants to take a new look at legislation he signed three years ago that pretty much stripped cities of their ability to regulate vacation rentals.

The governor said Thursday he still believes in the rights of individuals to be able to rent out rooms in their homes – and, in fact, their whole homes for special events like the Phoenix open – to help them earn some extra money.

But Ducey conceded that the 2016 law may be being used in ways that were not intended and have been “disruptive.” And that, he said, may include the practice of real estate speculators buying up homes in neighborhoods for the sole purpose of turning them into short-term rentals.

The comments come on the heels of complaints from some communities, particularly tourist destinations, where much of what had been the residential rental stock has been turned into short-term rentals, reducing the supply of affordable housing. In fact Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said developers are constructing homes with eight bedroom suites for the specific purpose of renting them out to tourists.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“So this is now people circumventing all the zoning regulations and everything else that hotels and motels have to go through,” said Fann, who met with more than 100 city officials here in Tucson to talk about the issue. “They’ve found a loophole that they are now building, if you will, mini hotels and motels in residential neighborhoods.

In signing the original 2016 law, Ducey proclaimed himself an unabashed supporter of the concept of unregulated vacation rentals.

“For thousands of hardworking citizens, opening up their homes to out-of-state guests provides the financial breathing room they need to provide for their family or enjoy extra expenses that they otherwise couldn’t afford,” the governor said at the time.

The law, however, did more than keep cities from telling people they cannot rent out a bedroom or their home.

There is no limit on the number of properties an investor can buy and days a home could be rented out – and all in the same residential area – potentially turning a neighborhood into a vacation rental zone. But Ducey at the time brushed aside the question of whether that could change the character of neighborhoods.

“I’m not going to answer these hypotheticals,” he told Capitol Media Services at a 2016 signing ceremony organized by Airbnb, a company that arranges short-term rentals through its internet app.

“The markets adjust,” the governor continued. “Somehow we survive people making entrepreneurial decisions, and innovative apps like this provide convenience and cost-sharing opportunities.”

On Thursday, Ducey acknowledged that perhaps the law he signed didn’t quite work out the way he had envisioned.

“I think there were some unintended consequences in a law that had the best of intentions,” he said, something he said is “not unusual” in the legislative process.

“It does appear in the situation of Airbnb and other organizations that we have some people out there that are doing some things that are disruptive to communities,” Ducey said.

“I do think there are some things we can address in terms of public policy,” the governor said. “And we’re going to be doing that in the upcoming legislative session.”

Fann was more direct. She said Thursday that what lawmakers voted for in 2016 was not what they got,  with the measure promoted as helping elderly homeowners keep their homes.

“Why shouldn’t the little old lady be able to rent her house out for 30 days and she goes and visits the grandkids?” the Prescott Republican said.

“We get that,” she said. “And that’s the bill of goods we were sold.”

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said his ideal solution would be to pretty much scrap the whole 2016 law.

“I support the neighborhoods,” he said. And as far as he’s concerned, the issue of how and when people can rent out their homes should be left to local city councils, unfettered by legislative intervention.

Campbell’s views are not new: He was one of only seven lawmakers to vote against the 2016 measure.

Another was Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who also continues to try to restore more local control. But he’s not convinced that outright repeal is politically possible.

“My ideal solution would be to ban them from residential zones,” he said.

But Ducey, for his part, appears more interested in minor tinkering.

“It’s really digging in to where the specifics are and how we fix it without wholesale change in terms of what citizens can do if they want to legitimately rent out their home for the Phoenix Open or some other event during spring training,” the governor said. What that means, he said is protecting “individual rights.”

Ducey said that’s why he agreed to sign the legislation this year on the issue of party houses.

And the issue of whole neighborhoods being converted?

“That’s something I want to dig into deeper and find out where the problem lies,” he said.

One hurdle to major alternations could prove political.

During the debate on Kavanagh’s legislation earlier this year, Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he also is a foe of what he said are abuses of vacation rentals, particularly for party houses. But he said there’s another factor at work in making changes.

“Let me point out that real estate agents are a very powerful entity within this body,” Lawrence said.

Ducey did sign a measure earlier this year to curb what was seen as one of the more blatant abuses, with single-family homes being turned into weekend “party houses.”

That new law, which takes effect this coming Aug. 27 spells out that homes cannot be used for parties, restaurants, sales or other non-residential purposes. And it requires owners to provide a point of contact for police to call if there are problems.

But that is a far cry from the original proposal by Kavanagh who contends the problems are far deeper – and worse.

He sought to restrict the number of occupants to not more than two adults per bedroom and to limit visiting hours for guests. And Kavanagh even wanted to require that owners actually install cameras and noise sensors to detect what is going on.

Ugenti-Rita introduces bill to repeal vehicle fee

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Calling its enactment “sneaky,” a veteran lawmaker wants to repeal a new $32-a-vehicle fee on every car, truck, motorcycle and trailer that is being used to balance the state budget.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said it’s bad enough that her colleagues used an end-run around the Arizona Constitution to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote for the fee, designed to fund the state Highway Patrol.

But Ugenti-Rita said what added insult to injury is that lawmakers were told the fee would be in the $18-a-vehicle range, not 75 percent higher.

Any effort to repeal the fee — and the $185 million it raises from Arizona motorists — could get a fight from Gov. Doug Ducey who built his $10.4 billion budget on it while insisting it did not violate his promise never to increase taxes. Spokesman Patrick Ptak said the dollars are needed to free up cash for road construction and repair, “especially in rural areas of the state where resources are badly needed.”

“Any reforms to that fee should be responsible and keep these priorities in mind.”

It’s not just Ducey who is concerned. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, the architect of the fee, also agrees there is a need for the additional dollars for road construction and maintenance.

But Campbell, like Ugenti-Rita, is irked that the fee is so much higher than he was told when he proposed it — and so much higher than he told his colleagues to get their votes.

Part of that is because the $32 fee is levied when a vehicle is registered. So anyone who has a multi-year registration — up to five years — is exempt until then.

And then the Highway Patrol budget ended up being larger than lawmakers were told.

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell wants to revamp the fee to make it fairer and lower it back to the original $18 promise.

But Ugenti-Rita said that misses the point that the fee was adopted through trickery to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. And Ugenti-Rita said if the money is really needed — and the levy is popular enough — it can be done in a way she says is legal, with the necessary two-thirds vote.

And if it can’t get the margin?

“Is that a justification to be tricky and circumvent the will of the people?” she said.

That will of the people is a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote for any new or increased tax or fee.

Unable to marshal that support, lawmakers instead empowered ADOT Director John Halikowski to compute the fee based on raising enough money to fund the Highway Patrol, with an extra 10 percent built in. And since it was Halikowski imposing the fee, the legislation to authorize him to do that required a simple majority vote.
Ugenti-Rita conceded that, strictly speaking, the maneuver is legal. The Arizona Supreme Court just last year upheld the legality of a similar mechanism to impose a fee on hospitals to pay for expansion of the state’s health care program for the poor.

That reasoning, however, left her unimpressed.

“If the government’s justification is ‘Just because I can, I will,’ that’s a bad one,” she said.

“I don’t think the public appreciates that,” Ugenti-Rita said. “Just because you found a sneaky way around it is not a good enough justification.”

The reason for the Highway Patrol fee is even more complicated.

Another constitutional provision says that any dollars raised from the use of Arizona roads, mainly gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, can be spent solely for those roads. But in prior efforts to balance the budget, lawmakers and governors have siphoned off those dollars to pay for at least part of the Highway Patrol based on the argument that the agency promotes highway safety.

What that did, however, is left fewer dollars for needed road construction and repair.

The road repair financial problem is complicated by the fact that the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991. And while there are more vehicles on the road, they are more fuel efficient, meaning motorists are buying fewer gallons of gas for every mile they travel.

Campbell figured that a separate fee to pay for Highway Patrol would free up those gasoline taxes for what he said is the intended purpose.

The fee was approved by a 35-24 margin in the House and 17-13 in the Senate, margins enough to authorize Halikowski to compute and impose a fee, but not enough for lawmakers to set the fee themselves.

Even at the time foes decried the plan.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because it was being done without any idea of the price tag on motorists.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucratto go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” he complained.

Ptak also insisted that the forcing motorists to pay an additional $32 for each vehicle does not violate Ducey’s pledge not to hike taxes, saying that it technically is a “fee.” But he declined to say whether the governor believes  the levy — whatever it is called — is fair or whether Ducey would veto any outright repeal if it reaches his desk.

Union legislation comes with warning for Democratic lawmaker

Dusk, Motion Blur freight train.

The message that Rep. Richard Andrade received seemed quite clear.

The Glendale Democrat was at his day job — he works as an engineer with the BNSF Railway — when somebody approached him in the yard.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, just want you to know: Fort Worth called our superintendent and told us what you did. You need to watch out.’”

Andrade was first hired out with BNSF in 1994, and shortly thereafter became active with the United Transportation Union, which after a merger with another union would become SMART, or Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. SMART has more than 200,000 members, so this is hardly uncommon. But most of those members are not elected to state legislatures, and as such, don’t end up with the power to craft legislation that could impact their employer or line of work.

This was the situation in which Andrade found himself when, in 2016, he proposed HB2577, a bill that would have required railroad companies operating in Arizona to “maintain a minimum of two certified operating employees … in the control compartment of the lead locomotive unit of a train while the train is in motion.”

It’s this, he claims, that earned him the ominous warning in the railyard.

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

“I’m six years from officially retiring from the railroad,” he said. “I need to watch out for myself.”

His bill had a nice list of bipartisan cosponsors, but nonetheless died in committee. It has reappeared every legislative session since, and will again this year, though never again under Andrade’s name. That honor has gone to Rep. Diego Espinoza, a Democrat from Tolleson who has sponsored the bill on Andrade’s behalf since 2017 after they agreed it was the more prudent choice in light of what happened to Andrade when he first proposed the legislation.

“This is about public safety and nothing more,” Espinoza said.

It’s easy to dismiss the crew requirements legislation as just another pet project, the kind of bill that a lawmaker proposes session after session with usually no success, banking on the hope that one day, the winds will break in the other direction and the votes will fall into place to get it out of committee, out of the chamber, out of the Legislature and to the governor. But this upcoming session is special.

On January 1, 2020, when legislative business officially begins in Arizona, the most recent national rail contract between the country’s largest rail carriers and the unions that represent the vast majority of their employees will become amendable, kicking off potentially bitter negotiations over issues including pay, safety, furloughs, pensions and potentially, crew sizes.

Espinoza and Andrade’s bill is really a proxy for a broader debate in the rail industry over how many operators need to be working in the lead locomotive unit at any given time.

In recent decades, the number of operators on board a given train has shrunk as rail technology has advanced. In 1991, a national agreement was reached that reduced crew sizes from three to two — one conductor and one engineer. That agreement, the unions say, also placed a moratorium on further national discussions about crew sizes until the last conductors and engineers affected by the agreement retire. Ever since, so-called crew consist agreements have only been struck on a “contract-by-contract basis” with individual rail properties, said Ben Nagy, a spokesman for SMART. Still, most trains have two operators today.

Diego Espinoza
Diego Espinoza

The unions — and Andrade, in this case — say that anything fewer than two operators on board is a safety risk. On long haul trips, operators face hard hours, fatigue and long stretches of empty country. When there’s an incident, law mandates that the engineer stay aboard, meaning the conductor has to go investigate and even serve as a first-responder. While an engineer monitors a locomotive’s functionality, the conductor serves as a co-pilot, checking for failures on the freight cars, among other duties.

“We’re required to call out signals and repeat things to one another,” said Scott Jones, Arizona legislative director with SMART and a fellow BNSF engineer. “It’s about safety. And you’re constantly fighting that fatigue factor.”

The rail carriers, on the other hand, say that two-person crews are increasingly obsolete due to improving technology. Positive Train Control, for example, is widely employed by Class-1 freight railroads. It uses GPS to track a train’s location and speed, sends out warnings to the engineer and can even slow down the train automatically.

Carriers like BNSF and Union Pacific have sunk billions into PTC technology — enough that they’d like to see national changes to crew requirements in the upcoming round of negotiations.

“In delivering bargaining notices to the industry’s labor unions, the railroads stressed that reaching new, modernized labor agreements can ensure that employees remain one of the nation’s best compensated workforces,” says a statement from the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents the carriers during national collective bargaining. “New agreements will also allow railroads to leverage transformational technologies – including developments in automation and safety – to help manage an uncertain economy and long-term structural changes in rail traffic.”

While the unions have successfully swatted away attempts at reducing crew sizes since the 1991 agreement, it’s hard to say they’ll have the same luck this time around. The railroads disagree with the union interpretation of the moratorium, and insist that crew sizes should be up for debate in bargaining. In October, the National Carriers’ Conference Committee sued SMART in a district court in Texas, asking the court to force SMART to come to the table on the matter once negotiations start in January.

There’s also action on the federal level. During the Obama years, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed a two-person crew rule following the deadly crash of an unmanned freight train carrying oil in Canada. But the carriers and unions couldn’t reach an agreement on the final wording of the rule. It remained in limbo until 2019, when Ron Batory, a former railroad executive appointed to the FRA by President Trump, withdrew the rule. The agency ruled “that no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate at this time,” and that “a Train Crew Staffing Rule Would Unnecessarily Impede the Future of Rail Innovation and Automation.”

This is where Andrade and Espinoza come in. Barring the conclusion of the Texas court case, the unions insist that they won’t discuss crew rules in the upcoming negotiations. So they have taken to legislatures across the country, lobbying for a law that would enshrine a two-person crew requirement in state statute. Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, California, Wisconsin and West Virginia have all passed legislation to that effect.

“One of the things that always puts our jobs in jeopardy is technology,” Andrade said. “A lot of our newer locomotives have GPS, PTC, trip optimizer — all this, and because our world is now mapped, whenever we hear things about changes in the cabs of locomotives, we see the writing on the wall.”

He faces an uphill battle. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who chairs the Transportation Subcommittee, said he’ll gladly hear this year’s crew-size effort, though he doesn’t know where he lands on the issue itself. But it’ll be tough to get through a GOP-controlled committee and Legislature, he said – in part because pro-union legislation tends to scare Republicans off.

Noel Campbell
Noel Campbell

“Also, they haven’t proved it’s a safety issue,” he said. “The railroads come in with their high powered attorneys and their statistics, and they say it’s not.”

The committee has heard from both sides on this before, Campbell said, and both have made cogent arguments. But he’s nervous about getting involved in a potential union fight, though he does want the issue to get more attention.

And even if the bill is able to make it all the way into statute, there’s an additional hurdle. In Illinois – a regional carrier and two railroad associations sued the state over its crew-size requirement, arguing that the Federal Railroad Administration’s ruling pre-empts any state law. Meanwhile, Colorado, Nevada and Washington have joined together in a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit seeking to overturn the administration’s pre-emption.

Neither case is concluded. And if Arizona is able to pass its own law, litigation is all but guaranteed, so long as the Federal Railroad Administration ruling stands.

Andrade knows this. So does Jones. In fact, they’re planning on it. The hope, they say, is that if enough states legislatures pass crew requirement laws, Congress or the Federal Railroad Administration will have to take note. Although, Andrade noted, agencies under the Trump administration rarely embrace further regulation.

“If we’re able to go up and say, these are the states that want two person crews because of safety, hopefully the FRA will listen,” Andrade said. “But realistically, the carriers are behind them. They have lots of money, but they’re putting a price on human life. We’re saying no.”


Vehicle license fee to play major role in budget talks

Dealer Vehicles in Stock. Brand New Cars Awaiting Clients on the Dealer Parking Lot. New Cars Section.

A controversial $32 fee may be a sticking point in budget negotiations between legislative Republicans and Gov. Doug Ducey.

In meetings with rank-and-file senators this week, Senate President Karen Fann said that one issue raised by her caucus was the public safety fee, which the state charges when someone renews their vehicle registration. Lawmakers approved the fee in 2018, expecting it to cost roughly $18. Instead, the fee was set at $32 late last year.

Republicans who opposed the fee in the first place have sought to repeal the fee, reduce it and, at the very least, cap its growth so that the director of the Department of Transportation – who lawmakers gave the authority to set the fee – can’t raise it substantially.

Those legislative efforts have been watered down or stalled at various stages of the legislative process. Even if they were successful, Ducey has indicated he’d veto those bills.

But no matter what lawmakers can accomplish now, the issue can, and will, be raised in budget negotiations. The issue may test the unity of the Republican caucuses. Some have supported a repeal, while others hope to keep the fee intact, arguing it is essential to funding highway patrol operations without sweeping funds from vital highway infrastructure needs, as was done for years in the past.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita sponsored the first bill of the session, SB1001, to repeal the fee entirely. It easily passed out of the Senate, with all but one Republican voting for  it.

Even Fann, the Senate president, supported it, as did most of the chamber’s Democratic senators.

“I think Fann is absolutely right to note that it’s an issue for many Republicans. It did get overwhelming, bipartisan support,” said Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale. “It’s a concern for members, and the public. They public’s still watching the issue, and they want it resolved. So I think it will play a significant role in the budget.”

Ugenti-Rita’s bill has since stalled in the House, where she’s trying to convince Rep. Noel Campbell, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, to give SB1001 a hearing.

The bill was scheduled for a hearing on March 6, but Campbell held it. The Prescott Republican has his own bill that would reduce the fee to $18. But it failed on a House vote earlier this week, 27-32, as some Republicans voted against it while speaking in favor of a full repeal.

Ugenti-Rita said Campbell “needs to get a little bit more comfortable” with a full repeal.

As for Campbell, he acknowledged that whatever the House or Senate may approve, the buck still stops with Ducey, who indicated in January that he has no plans to abandon the fee and go back to sweeping dollars that local officials need for road maintenance and construction.

In January, Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said: “This was a problem that had long existed at the local level and from a budgeting perspective that was solved last session as part of the total budget package and we see no reason to change course.”

Ugenti-Rita said that’s a false choice. There’s enough money to go around in the budget this year to cover the cost to repeal the fee, cover the roughly $180 million cost of the highway patrol and keep intact infrastructure funding for highways.

With that in mind, Fann’s not yet sure how staunch opponents of the fee will be against Ducey in budget talks.

“I’m not going to speak for members at this point, whether they’re going to dig their heels in,” the Senate president said.

In the House, Campbell is trying to sway his fellow representatives to reconsider their votes on the fee reduction bill. And even when the bill was failing during a March 3 vote, Campbell had a warning for Ducey.

“Our intent is not to be trifled with,” he said.

Katie Campbell and Carmen Forman contributed to this report.